I read the news that Facebook had bought WhatsApp for $19bn with some surprise, as most of the world did – particularly as the deal was apparently concluded in a matter of weeks since it was first discussed. I can understand the various theories bouncing around about why it was so important for Facebook to nullify a potential future competitor, tap into the mobile market more successfully (it’s the future, apparently!) and instantly receive a shot in the arm in terms of their impressive user base growth rate (WhatsApp instantly adds 450 million users to the Facebook user bottom line). But I struggle to comprehend is why they paid so much. The Marketer magazine put together a good summary of why Facebook bought WhatsApp HERE
Just a few weeks prior, one of WhatsApp’s main competitors, Viber (and my messaging app of choice) was bought by Rakuten, the new Japanese owner of Play.com for $900m. Various sources report their user base at around the 200 million mark – so when compared to the Facebook WhatsApp deal, it’s a struggle to see what extra Facebook is paying for.
And that’s where I’m stuck. When I was looking for a messaging app, I downloaded both to my iPhone to check them both out. When you sign up, you authorise each app to access your contacts and they both scan through them and show which of your current contacts use each app. I found exactly the same people on Viber and WhatsApp, so there was nothing between them at that stage.
But then WhatsApp introduced an annual charge. And whilst it’s only $1 per year (I’m sure that’s only the start before – under the guidance of Facebook – they start introducing additional charges for other ‘premium’ features), it’s the principle of the thing – and the fact that Viber is completely free. Yes, Viber try to push you to buy their stickers, but it’s not mandatory and you can easily ignore them.
In terms of features, both apps are very similar. There are some differences between the two, but they’re minor. WhatsApp for instance lets you send multiple images in one message, whereas Viber doesn’t. But then Viber allows commenting to be sent with its image messages, and WhatsApp doesn’t. I think Viber might slightly have the advantage because of the number of platforms it offers its app for (including the desktop) as well as its ability to make VOIP calls too. I don’t think WhatsApp can do this yet, but surely this is just a matter of time before this (premium/chargeable) feature is added. Ultimately, the choice of messaging app (and there are others beyond Viber and WhatsApp) will largely depend on personal preference and what the majority of your contacts are already using.
Many people will complain about the fact that Facebook now has even more access to personal data, but for me, it’s a small price to pay for such great functionality. Services like Google (Gmail, calendar, Google Docs, Google Drive) and other free service need to be funded somehow, and as long as my data isn’t being used fraudulently, I think it’s a fair exchange. If anything, it means that the adverts I see are more targeted and relevant to me – so it’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.