Why is Whatsapp so pervasive

Posted by Swaroop C H on November 12, 2012 Filed under: mobile-phone, tech
Whatsapp I'm astounded on how popular Whatsapp (messaging app for phones) really is:
  • My wife's friend who runs a boutique went to an old market to buy cloth material for her shop - the salesman asked her to send the specific color she wants with a picture via Whatsapp. Think of an old dusty market and think of this again.
  • My wife's friend who is a recent mom talks to her paediatrician via whatsapp for advice and general questions, and the doctor replies back (regardless of location).
  • An uncle and aunt in US go for shopping in the big malls and send photos to each other of whether they should pick up that item or not.
  • My uncle and aunt were in town and we went shopping - again, we sent photos of the T-shirts to their son in another town to ask whether he likes the shirt enough to buy it - decision done, shirt bought, no risk of a T-shirt going unused.
  • Recently, there was an incident in Bangalore because of which SMSes were restricted, which is like a heart attack for teenagers, including my sister - they all downloaded Whatsapp and shifted to it in an instant. "SMS costs - be gone!" Luckily, Whatsapp was free for a day or so in the iTunes app store around the same time and my sister, who is using my old iPhone (which is still working after 4 years) and does not have a credit card, grabbed it with eager fingers and is loving it.
I could go on and on, the point remains that the pervasiveness of it still surprises me. And it surprises many of my peers who grew up with email, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, etc. So I was imagining what could be the reasons that Whatsapp is so popular, and here are some wild guesses:
  • 2G on mobile is finally affordable? Now that 3G is more common and has been around for a couple of years, the slower predecessor has finally become cheap enough.
  • WiFi is more common now?
  • BlackBerry "BB-PIN" popularized the concept of instant messaging to a new phone-using generation, but people needed something cross-platform and Whatsapp was in the right place at the right time?
  • Whatsapp is available on most mobile operating systems including many older generation platforms such as Symbian, so people are not left out of the conversation.
  • Why didn't people simply use GTalk? I'm guessing it's because of the "create a Google account" barrier as well as GTalk not being as feature-full?
  • Talking about features - groups, photo sharing, video sharing is a natural extension that was just meant to happen, Whatsapp makes it free (as opposed to SMS/MMS)
  • The details in Whatsapp are great - for example, every message has two ticks - one that says it has gone from your phone to the server, the second tick shows that it has gone from the server to the other person's phone - an in-built message delivery status as opposed to guessing whether the SMS has reached the other person
  • Did I mention how useful the groups feature is? I'm keeping in touch with friends all over the world through the same - in particular, one group has people in USA, Singapore, India all in one group and having a conversation at the same time.
  • So why didn't email do the same? Because people have a work email/personal email distinction whereas a phone is undoubtedly personal? Because people don't like to differentiate between a subject line and a body line (don't laugh, I did too until I realized this is actually a barrier), they just want to "chat" because people are already familiar with SMS?
These are just my rough line of thought about this whole thing and I just wanted to write it down because many of my friends have asked the same question.

What are your thoughts?


@v1pl says:

@swaroopch haven't read your post, but my reasons are: app available on nearly all platforms, coupled with low entry barrier (no login/pass)

@Praval says:

@swaroopch major reason for sticking to @WhatsApp is that it doesn’t have Ads and gives a very good experience to a first time user.

@i0exception says:

@swaroopch Plus, SMS is expensive (in the US at least) @neerajarora

Neerav says:

Recently on a trip to Darjeeling, I wanted to buy a cardigan for my mom. Not sure which colour to pick, I just clicked a picture, sent it via whatsapp and asked my mom for her choice. So simple. Avoided all the pain of guessing and then waiting till I hand it over to mom and she finally saying 'i like the colour' (hopefully).

My reasons for success of whatsapp:
1. Cross platform
2. Super simple to use (even my mom uses it and thats a big statement)
3. Cost effective plans for GPRS

@21bhargav says:

@swaroopch For the huge number of smileys that can be used in almost all situations imaginable :-)

@mitensampat says:

@swaroopch nice post on the circumstances for why it could be popular, but why them v/s Kik, GroupMe others is real question cc @neerajarora

Mayank says:

cost of 2G/3G is definitely a major factor. Also I think more than cross platforms we are moving towards having app for everything. I am not sure why but the idea of an app is more appealing to people. If you have a website to register a ticket and an app for the same, people would use the app and not go to the website. Perhaps app reduces the number of steps and instant feeling makes it more lucrative.

Ad is also another reason. Though its security aspect sucks even now. But normal people don't know or care.

Swaroop says:

@Neerav Nice story, I'm familiar with the same experience with whatsapp :)

Swaroop says:

@Mayank I agree with you, just today I read an analogy that puts it well : "The OS is the new browser — apps are the tabs."

Suhail says:

The big big reason is 2G has become very affordable.

The other is its simplicity, no registration required, it usese your mobile number as your username and your IMEI number as your password.

You don't need to manually add contacts to whatsapp, it collects the contact numbers from your mobile, checks on whatsapp server, which of the contacts have whatsapp installedd and instantly adds them to your whatsapp account, all set and done, ready to use.

It has not only become an alternative to SMS but to voice as well.

Overall the concept and idea is very much similiar to BBM, but these guys applied it to all platforms and took over the market.

Wunderkinder says:

I think Suhail mentioned the biggest reason IMO viz auto adding contacts, followed by cross platform availability. Removes the biggest barrier to entry to any new messaging platform, which is adding all your contacts one by one, having them start using the platform, being "available online", etc. etc... Your entire phone book with 1000s of contacts just get added nearly instantly, depending on their usage of the app.

Best use I've seen recently is an MD group messaging on whatsapp with the CFO, CTO & COO during an Investor meet to figure out answers to some queries!! :) Think the IT guys haven't caught on to the security holes yet. Probably another year or 2 / a major hack attack away from the "Ooops!" moment.

Sarthak Ganguly says:

Absolutely same experience with Whatsapp. Loved your article.

mikejame078 says:

The platform independance, low cost in comparison to the BB plans and the hassle free additions of contacts have resulted in whatsapp being pervasive...


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