So WhatsApp has topped the paid-for iPhone app chart yet again. The cross-platform mobile messaging application allows users to send messages to other WhatsApp users without having to spend on an SMS, but what is so special about this app that makes it so popular with mobile consumers?
What’s so good if you have unlimited texts already?
In the UK, many mobile users already have a plan that gives you unlimited texts, so the ability to exchange messages for free seems somewhat redundant. Even more so, if you consider that WhatsApp uses the internet plan that you already use for email and web-browsing: no additional costs, but no additional value either?
Not quite. Unlike SMS or MMS communication, WhatsApp allows you to send and receive video and audio messages from within the app, using your pre-existing data plan. I can take a photo, or record a voice message from within a conversation and send it for my friend to receive instantly.
I can upload a media file from my mobile, broadcast my location using my phone’s GPS services, and import and send contact details from within the conversation too. And it’s got more emoticons than you can shake a USB stick at.
All this makes WhatsApp more appealing than texting my contacts in the UK. I can see if my contacts are online, typing, or when they last connected to WhatsApp. I can see if my message has sent, been received, or if it still hasn’t left my phone.
Saving you a fortune in roaming’ text charges
Where WhatsApp really comes into its own, however, is in messaging contacts abroad. If I am out of the UK, and therefore my mobile costs are subject to international charges, I can connect to WiFi and exchange messages free-of-charge as I would in the UK. Sending an SMS or making or receiving a call, on the other hand, would cost me.
A case study: a friend of my daughter has recently moved to Buenos Aires. Being regular texters and facing the expense of cross-continental texting, which wasn’t really an option, my daughter suggested her friend downloaded WhatsApp, which she herself had used to communicate with friends in Spain.
Now my daughter’s friend can visit IguazÃº Falls and send the photos straight back to friends and family in London. She can send a video of a tango show to my daughter, who can watch it instantly then record a voice message to tell her friend how she wishes she could have been there too.
How can WhatsApp bring mothers and daughters together?
This isn’t necessarily something for the younger generations though. Mother and daughter keep in regular contact through WhatsApp, which affords a more immediate and personal exchange that email cannot compete with.
It offers a different service from Skype, which generally requires a computer, or at least a very fast connection, whereas WhatsApp can be used on the go to send an instant update wherever you happen to be.
Mobile consumers vote with their feet, and there appears to be a trend towards apps like WhatsApp whose advantages outweigh the pros of other services. This is by no means to say that the humble text message (or phone call) is dead after 20 years of ever-growing usage (declining for the first time last year in the UK).
Those interested in mobile technologies and how fast creative innovation can spread globally in the new world of Mobile Apps would do well to take note of the rocketing popularity of WhatsApp.
Worked up a WhatsAppetite? If you like the sound of WhatsApp, you can download and install from Google Play for free, or for £0.69 on iTunes.