WhatsUp With WhatsApp?

Category: Mobile

Facebook blew everyone’s minds recently by announcing its $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, an instant messaging app for smartphones. If you haven’t tried WhatsApp, you may be puzzled by Facebook’s valuation of it. Here is how WhatsApp works, how it might save (or cost) you money, and why Google tried but failed to keep it out of Facebook’s clutches...

What App is WhatsApp?

The WhatsApp Messenger client runs on a wide variety of phone operating systems: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Microsoft Windows Phone, and selected Nokia platforms. It enables users to share text, pictures, videos, and audio messages with their contacts. You can think of WhatsApp as a hybrid of live chat and SMS texting.

Estimates of WhatsApp’s user base range from 190 million to 450 million, the latter being the company’s claim. The messenger app is free to download and use for the first year. Thereafter, the annual subscription fee is just 99 cents ($0.99 USD).

WhatsApp undercuts the biggest cash cow that cellular carriers have: SMS messaging. SMS costs virtually nothing to provide but carriers get away with charging as much as 50 cents per multimedia message, depending on the plan selected by the customer. WhatsApp enables users to skip that gouging.

What is WhatsApp?

Of course, nowadays most U. S. customers buy unlimited SMS messaging service as part of their service plans. WhatsApp has seen most of its rapid growth in other countries. But WhatsApp is a significant boon to prepaid and pay-as-you-go customers, a frugal and significant part of the U. S. market. And it's those plans that often have stingy limits on how many text messages you can send or receive, without paying extra.

Although it is currently most popular outside the USA, people with international friends find WhatsApp especially useful. Here's why: Even if you have unlimited texting, you'll probably have to pay extra for international texting. WhatsApp eliminates that phone company cha-ching.

WhatsApp’s developers have always focused on SMS and phones, while instant messaging apps from other, better-known companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, et. al., began on desktop PCs and migrated to phones. WhatsApp’s distinction is a user experience perfectly tailored to the smartphones that are the fastest-growing communication device.

The development of WhatsApp has not been without problems. Security holes that left users’ messages vulnerable to interception were closed in 2011. Messages were totally unencrypted until May, 2012, and the encryption implemented thereafter has been described as “broken” by security experts. In 2012, a hacker opened a Web site that enabled anyone who knew your phone number to change your status on WhatsApp; for instance, “Hey, peeps, I’m at a peep show off Times Square!” In January, 2013, WhatsApp Messenger was removed from the Apple Store without explanation; it returned four days later.

One thing to note about WhatsApp is that it uses mobile data (not your SMS/text allotment) to send and receive messages. If you have a limited data plan (as most people do) and unlimited texting, using WhatsApp could be counterproductive. If you're a heavy user of multimedia messages, you'll have to watch your data usage, to be sure you're not incurring overage charges. Of course, if you use WhatsApp while connected to wifi, you won't be burning your mobile data.

A major privacy concern about WhatsApp has been its insistence on sucking up all of the contacts in a users’ address book in order to locate contacts who use WhatsApp and build an instant circle of accessible acquaintances. Several governments are investigating WhatsApp with a view towards forcing it to adhere to their privacy laws.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said that he views WhatsApp as part of a “gateway drug” of free services his company hopes to offer. The plan is to get people hooked on Facebook-branded services and then sell them premium services.

I can see the utility of WhatsApp for those who have limited texting, or people who text internationally. But personally, I don't see the allure of WhatsApp. Every mobile phone made in the last 20 years has text messaging capability included, and most plans include unlimited domestic texting. I don't send a lot of text messages, and few to none overseas. And why would I want to expose my contact list to yet another possible security glitch or attack vector?

Have you tried WhatsApp? Does the Facebook acquisition affect your willingness to use WhatsApp? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "WhatsUp With WhatsApp?"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

Even though I am not a user of WhatsApp, I know it has become popular thanks to the dozens of fake WhatsApp message alerts that have been arriving in my mailbox on an almost daily basis.

Posted by:

Robert Werner
10 Mar 2014

Don't fully understand how it works but was able to use it to communicate with my son when he was at a ski lodge in a remote area and neither audio or texting worked.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

I guess back home I wouldn't need it but I am abroad and believe me its a must have! Fortunately, we are not tied into a service when getting a phone or chip for our iPads/Tabs. Major companies and we choose which one and which package or no package at all. Mine adds credits every time I recharge which I can use towards shopping, eating out, whatever. Or I could just add credit to any service I want on my phone including net and multimedia.

The privacy issue adding everyone in your contacts is not a problem. No one is added without your permission and you can add or block them. You can send pictures from your gallery or phone cam, send voice notes or videos, location and contacts.

I have my children in a group as well as colleagues and a few others. If I need to call any of them I can do it straight from the app and stay on the app while on call.

I wish I could have the freedom of packages, providers and all back home like I do here. It really costs nothing to use and all services are just a call away, no need to go in to a branch to take care of things.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

Thanks for this heads-up Bob, nice 1

A very well put-together piece.

Smoke-screens all the way, if it isn't Google extensions is Facebook. It would seem that the 21st century being the information age, is an age to get all the individuals privacy at whatever cost...........

I'm from the UK and am aware you guys in the states already have trouble with government prying eyes let alone social media selling you out too........

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

Been using WhatsUp for years. It's especially good at messaging small groups. For example, I can have a group for my family, one for people at work, for my volleyball friends, my book club, etc. Contacts easily added or removed. Teachers use it with their classes for announcements, and the kids usually have a class group for gossip, without the teacher. Also you can send pictures and videos, and recorded messages, all simpler and less time consuming than doing the same on SMS.

Posted by:

Ian Thompson
10 Mar 2014

What a negative review of an amazing app! As you said so yourself, you can send messages, photos and videos for free from any country to any other country using wifi that is available in most hotels and cafes.

Posted by:

Leila Wlson
10 Mar 2014

Thank you for this helpful article Bob. I downloaded "WhatsApp" awhile back as my son works abroad so thought it would be useful when getting in touch with him. I have unlimited texting in the UK where I live. I have never had occasion to use it but once I read your article and realised why Facebook has bought it I deleted it immediately. Enough said and thank you!

Posted by:

Annette Bode
10 Mar 2014

Our family loves WhatsUp. We post pictures to one another, make silly jokes -- and it's all restricted to our family. It's a wonderful way to share pictures, videos, recorded messages and experiences. Like having a 15-way party-line conversation across three continents.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

I'm personally sick of Facebook trying to infect every part of my internet life! I deactivated my Facebook account because I was fed up with the constant and invasive ads and their questionable privacy practices. I decided against an Instagram account after they bought out Instagram. Every site I visit and every account I try to log into wants me to login with Facebook or Like them on Facebook and now Uverse has arbitrarily added Facebook so that it can be accessed on our TVs...which means my teenager can access it even if he's punished and restricted on every other internet capable device in the house. Facebook is like a virus infecting my internet life...le sigh

Posted by:

Robert Martin
10 Mar 2014

¨you can send messages, photos and videos for free from any country to any other country using wifi that is available in most hotels and cafes.¨
I am living in Mexico and it is very popular here. However, I have found it is blocked when using free wifi in restaurants, coffee shops , etc. Not certain why, but that is the case in many places.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2014

I'm from Thailand. Whatsapp was very popular 3-4 years ago as it could send text and pictures, but now the LINE app surpassed Whatsapp. Created by Naver, it bypassed texting by introducing 'stickers' which can say more than words and doesn't take time for you to text, just one tap and you can get basic messages through. There are 'Free' stickers and 'Sold" stickers. The related application LINE CAMERA is comparable to Instagram. Free calls and video calls are also supported, but depends on the connection speed and device.

Posted by:

Patrick Doyle
11 Mar 2014

I love WhatsApp I found it when I changed my Blackberry to an Android phone. I looked forward to BBM when it became available on my Nexus 4 but it's not a patch on WhatsApp. My extreme dislike of Facebook, I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole, annoys me that they instead of Google bought it.Hopefully they won't screw up the best way to text out there.

Posted by:

Ian Walker
11 Mar 2014

As always, Bob, thanks for a useful article. The warning about the impact on your mobile data quota was a useful one as many people don't think about the size of their uploads and downloads (YouTube probably being the best way to bust your data limits). I still think, however, that WhatsApp's biggest plus is that it gets round the exorbitant charges for multimedia messaging even when you've got unlimited texts.
Also interesting was your warning of how WhatsApp works. However, the last security issue was over a year ago, January 2013. Have there been any signs since then that our contacts' addresses might have been compromised? If not, do we still need to be worried any more than with many other apps we use that may expose our contacts?

Posted by:

11 Mar 2014

Viber and Line are similar services. I live in Asia and had nothing but phone problems (locking up) on my Windows phone with WhatsUp so we all switch to Line. Line also does not require I open my address book contacts.

Viber also allows you to make Viber to Viber calls like Skype.

. Viber and Line seem much more popular here

Posted by:

11 Mar 2014

What an amazingly unwarranted negative writeup. We have used WhatsApp for many, many years. We have had absolutely no problems. We are Canadian and our children are abroad. Even locally, it eats up very little of our data. From our perspective, our family loves it! And so do our friends.

Posted by:

Trust Issues
11 Mar 2014

I downloaded WhatsApp about a month ago directly from the developer's website as to bypass Google Play and Amazon AppStore, to find that when I initiated the install, it wanted to scan all of my phone contacts. I immediately canceled the install and deleted the app from my phone. Now that I hear Zuckerberg has bought it out, I'm even more happy that I didn't go through with the install.

I just can't allow any app to go through all of my contacts automatically. And now knowing that the developer is a sell out and "Facade"book will eventually start advertising along with the use of WhatsApp, that now kills all trust that I had in the app developer and owners. I refuse to have a Facebook page. I don't have a Google Play account for the same reason. I just don't trust Google knowing their number one goal is to collect and store all the information it can. I refuse to use their search engine either, I use DuckDuckGo or Ixquick and I always look for direct downloads from the developers before I will use Amazon which I had an account with for many years prior to the release of AppStore.

Of course, I have found that for some reason, Amazon AppStore will start when I run certain apps that I have purchased through it and that it hogs memory and slows the apps down, so I now use Titanium Backup Pro, which I purchased directly from it's developer and also requires root, in order to freeze AppStore when I don't want it to run. I can easily defrost it when I need to. It's also handy to freeze any other suspect app on your phone without causing any harm that could occur if they were otherwise deleted entirely.

I guess what I'm trying to say is if you don't trust a developer, simply don't use their products. There are ALWAYS alternatives, sometimes you just have to look for them or read about them in posts such as this. I checked out Viber and decided it wasn't for me either. I now plan to research the Line app mentioned by Isaraya and Waly. In the mean time, Happy apping everyone!

Posted by:

13 Mar 2014

I used the WhatsApp until the BBM app was released. I deleted WhatsApp and use BBM App only. I works better than the WhatsApp for my non Apple friends. I use iMessage and Facetime for all of my Apple friends.

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

I will be the first to admit that I don't always understand what all of you are talking about. Now after reading all of these posts I have to say that I am no closer to understanding what I should do or who I should trust. Thanks everyone for your help. NOT

Posted by:

Ian Thompson
09 May 2014

It's the international aspect of Whatsapp that is its selling point. Most hotels have free wifi, meaning that I can send a message & photo instantly to my daughter in Australia for free. With Viber I can also send video.

Posted by:

17 Jul 2014

Thanks, it is good!

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