It’s ancient history the primary function of a mobile phone – or rather smartphone nowadays – was to make a call. In the year 2014 the smartphone is genuinely smart, offering you news, email, directions, music, videos, agenda, camera, weather forecast, alarm, calculator, currency converter, and about any other thing you can possibly think of in the form of an app. But probably most important of all, there is Whatsapp.
I’m not going to discuss how it’s possible that a messenger app with a keyboard so tiny we make spelling mistakes every other word is more convenient to bring across a message than a simple phone call… However, I am going to take a look at this magical thing called ‘Whatsapp’.
What about WhatsApp?
In August of this year Whatsapp was reported to have over 600 million active users according to founder Jan Koum, and is still growing significantly each month ( 100% growth between August 2013 and August 2014.) http://www.statista.com/statistics/260819/number-of-monthly-active-whatsapp-users/ The app is mostly popular in North America and Europe and seems to be doing quite well in these markets. However I do worry about one thing…
The two most outstanding changes I’ve seen in Whatsapp over the past months are the slightly greener logo and the incredible improvement of blue checkmarks, indicating when your message was read. This wasn’t very well received by the users though because of privacy issues – which is pretty ironic, considering the company was bought by Facebook a few months prior, but no one really seemed to mind that – and not much more than a week later a beta-version was announced with the option to turn off these devilish blue checkmarks again. (http://www.myce.com/news/whatsapp-releases-beta-with-option-to-disable-blue-checkmark-read-indicator-73483/?PageSpeed=noscript).
Regardless whatever peculiar choices WhatsApp has made lately, more importantly I want to address the problem of a lack of innovation within the company. Messaging is obviously the core function of the app, but it seems like that’s about it for WhatsApp.
We tend to forget the world is a bit bigger than our smartphone screen sometimes. Although the map below is a bit outdated, there is one lesson to be learned: There are more messenger apps than Whatsapp. You probably haven’t even heard of half of these apps, and why bother, Whatsapp is the big thing over here, and no one even uses the other ones. But that’s where you’re wrong. These apps are gaining in popularity, and let’s face it, they have some advantages compared to Whatsapp.
What else is out there?
So, to not make this a dreadful 20 page article, I will only focus on what for now seems the biggest competitor for Whatsapp and Facebook (as they are the same company). According to Statista WeChat had 468 active users in August of 2014, not quite at the same level as WhatsApp, but surely getting there.
To get you up-to-date real fast: WeChat = Facebook + WhatsApp. It’s a messenger app which additionally has a function to upload photos and messages for friends to see and comment on. This is not all though, WeChat is constantly improving its services, including a wallet to conveniently make payments as well as the function to order a cab. For some more information, check out the video below.
WeChat just seems to really think from the user perspective and make it as simple to use as possible. Chinese is pretty hard to write, so you can easily send voice messages. Written messages can be translated through the app, and instead of exchanging phone numbers you can scan your friends QR-code to add them.
The real potential here though is the ecommerce. Not only users can make an account, also businesses can open up an account to communicate with their customers, but that’s not even all… In June of 2013 the possibility of making payments via the platform was included. Only a few months later, in March of 2014 big brands could sell on WeChat, and as of May 2014 virtually anyone can open a store in the app to start selling products. http://knowledge.ckgsb.edu.cn/2014/08/26/technology/will-wechat-succeed-in-mobile-commerce/
These innovations have not been unnoticed by Western companies. Just a few days ago the internet was buzzing because Buzzfeed opened a WeChat account. However, an attentive reader mentioned the Wall Street Journal had opened an account the previous month, and there are many others. http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/18/buzzfeed-jumps-aboard-the-messaging-app-train-starting-with-wechat/
I’m not saying WeChat is about to take over the Western market, I honestly think they have as much trouble gaining foothold in Western countries as WhatsApp will have trying to enter the Chinese market, but as far as my comparison goes it’s clear which of the two is ahead. WhatsApp may seriously take a look at improving it’s services, before it becomes as outdated as the function to call. Obviously this does not just apply to Whatsapp, but virtually any business needs to be aware of how the game field is constantly changing.