Is WhatsApp making its messaging rivals irrelevant in India?

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By Nishtha Kanal /  05 Dec 2013 , 18:02

WhatsApp has slowly, yet steadily become the king of the cross-platform messaging space not just in India, but even internationally. With 300 million monthly active users (MAU) globally, WhatsApp has a good reason to gloat as well. While it isn’t the most feature-filled messaging service out there, WhatsApp dominates, and how. Do other cross platform messaging apps even stand a chance against WhatsApp?

Neeraj Arora, Head of Business Development for WhatsApp announced today that the messaging app is serving a staggering 30 million users in India alone, making the country one of its biggest markets currently. Alongside, the app has also tied up with Tata Docomo to announce a couple of data plans, especially designed around the service.

Can another app overtake WhatsApp?

Can another app overtake WhatsApp?

Tata Docomo in a statement said that it had carried out an independent study to come to a conclusion that users felt the need of customised data offerings, paying only for the apps that they ended up using. Using these two packs that vary in validity, users will need to shell out just Re 1 a day in order to have unlimited WhatsApp usage. For a whole bunch of users in India who use feature phones or entry level smartphones, this is a boon.

Shelling out hundreds of rupees per month for a data plan, when one usually ends up spending most time with their smartphone to communicate with family and friends using WhatsApp seems unnecessary. However, the bigger play by WhatsApp in India is making the app indispensible to Indian users, with tailored data plans.

Leading the trail of apps

Leading the trail of apps

It was only recently revealed in a study that WhatsApp is surging ahead of its competition the world over. Conducted in US, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and China, the study showed 44 percent iOS and Android users naming WhatsApp as the one social messaging app that they used once a week. This study didn’t even include Windows Phone users into the mix, neither did it touch India. While the 30 million figure should give us a rough estimate of its popularity, we conducted a little survey of our own.

A pretty decent 60 percent of the respondents said that they access WhatsApp once every week. With 30 percent, Facebook Messenger came a close second to WhatsApp. Surely, the figures would have been more skewed towards WhatsApp a year or so ago, but amongst the multitude of apps that are flooding the market everyday, WhatsApp is still holding its own.

You can also gauge WhatsApp’s popularity taking into consideration the fact that it is one of the most popular apps to come pre-installed on not just smartphones but even feature phones. Several OEMs now count WhatsApp as one of the must-have pre-installed applications. Late last month Nokia announced the availability of the WhatsApp app for the Asha 501. The feature phone that seems to be doing well in the Indian market and WhatsApp feels like a part of Nokia’s features rather than a third-party application.

Nokia also announced the Asha 210 earlier this year that came with a dedicated WhatsApp key. Hitting the key would take you straight to the app, a one of its kind tie-up between the app and an OEM. Earlier, only Facebook had the distinction of having such a button with HTC’s ChaCha.

A dedicated key for WhatsApp? Yes, please!

A dedicated key for WhatsApp? Yes, please!

Not to mention, there may be a WhatsApp client for the Firefox OS in works already. Back in November, a Spanish tech site speculated that an app for Firefox’s mobile OS could be coming by the end of the year.

WhatsApp’s major competition is with the likes of Facebook Messenger and the army of cross-platform messaging apps originating from East and South-East Asia. Facebook’s Messenger service builds on the same users it already has. WeChat, Line, Kakao Talk and more have an edge in parts of Asia and are now trying to make roadways into India with goodies such as stickers, mini social networks, video calls and more.

The competition seems like quite a mismatch. On one hand is the “We will never sell ads” WhatsApp that has been working off a $8 million funding round from April 2011 and on the other is an app like WeChat that has the massive backing of Tencent, a billion-dollar Chinese company.

It isn’t a rare event to switch the TV on and end up seeing an ad for WeChat followed by one for Line. Considering that India has seen an exponential growth in smartphone users in the recent past, communication app makers have been making it a point to drill as hard and deep as they can into the market. So we see the Katrina Kaifs, the Parineeti Chopras and the Varun Dhawans of the Hindi film industry pushing WeChat and Line on a massive scale on TVs, print ads, outdoor hoardings and everywhere else. WhatsApp on the other hand merely relies on the word of mouth and supplements it with OEM and service provider tie-ups.

According to data collected in the past month by App Annie, WhatsApp has consistently been ruling the charts on both iOS and Android platforms. In fact, on Android, WhatsApp is not only the top free app in the Communications section, it is the most popular application overall. It must be noted, though, that BBM enjoyed the second spot almost immediately after its release in November but has been promptly replaced by Facebook Messenger. On iOS too, WhatsApp remains the most popular app in the Social Networking category, trounced only by “Kundli Software” on the overall charts. WeChat is currently on the number five position on the Android side of things, followed by Facebook Messenger on position six and Line on number seven.

Rival apps have managed to eat into WhatsApp's plum share of users over the course of the last few months but WhatsApp is smoothly side-stepping all this competition in the country by focusing purely on the messaging aspect, steering clear of monetisation tactics. Without doing anything flashy, it has managed to keep competition at bay with some shrewd tie-ups too. Competitors, take note!


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