What is the point of Whatsapp?

Joseph Ducreux Wazzzup
Totally looking cool

I was recently introduced to the smartphone application Whatsapp. It enables you to send messages to your contacts and runs in the background of your telephone.

My immediate question was: what is the difference with email? The Whatsapp FAQ just announces very candidly: “We are sure you and your friends will figure out the difference between SMS and WhatsApp Messenger very quickly.” Of course, but the relevant comparison is not with SMS…

I am happy to see that I am not the only emitting doubts about the usefulness of the app. As far as I could make out, not only do you have to pay for it, but there is nothing in Whatsapp that is not available through the use of email (that all smartphones have) or instant-messaging such as Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger, all of which are free. As Jason rightly puts it:

I still fail to see how WhatsApp is better than email, which:
– is also instant.
– has no limitation on the type of attachments.
– is a native feature to every smartphone. You don’t have to pay for and use a separate application.
– doesn’t even require you to “add” a person. Just begin typing the recipients name and every smartphone will autocomplete the field for you if you have that person’s email in your contact list. If you don’t have the person’s email in your contact list, just type the address.
– is not only cross-smartphone platform; it is truly cross-platform. Email can be accessed on smartphones, dumbphones, and computers. Imagine what would happen if someone with a Yahoo email account could only email another Yahoo customer. Ridiculous.

On top of that, your user-ID is your telephone number, which means that Whatsapp knows your telephone number.

More importantly: you have to pay. Not much, true, but still, you’re paying for what is essentially a restricted version of email. Mmm.

Finally, people at Whatsapp are very cheeky and resort to what I would consider bad business practices:

  • They use blatant price obfuscation: to date, I still haven’t found a single mention of their prices on their website. Only found out randomly that it wasn’t free by going to the Settings of the app, where I noticed that I was under trial period.
  • At least on Android (not sure about other platforms), they grant you a one-year trial period. Some people might consider this generosity. I see it as a way to lock-in customers, to make sure they get used to the product and build their network of contacts, before starting to charge people.
  • They will not inform you to changes to their Privacy Policy: it’s up to the user to check them regularly.