WhatsUp With WhatsApp?
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 10 Mar 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- WhatsUp With WhatsApp? (Posted: 10 Mar 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved