Why WhatsApp is Still So Popular


WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging app for smartphones on the market at the time we are writing this. The user base has gone beyond half a billion people and it is still growing. It is now under the ownership of Facebook, which shows its popularity and worth on the market.

But what made it so popular? Why is it that most people think of WhatsApp as the first IM app to install on their new smartphone? The question is very pertinent since when we compare WhatsApp and other apps of the same type on the market, like Viber and Kik, it lags behind in features and many other respects. Besides, WhatsApp isn’t completely free as the other apps.

We are not here to be advocates of WhatsApp because we have a lot to complain about it, but many want to know why despite all we have to complain, it is still the most popular IM around for mobile. An analysis that travels back through time gives us the following reasons.

WhatsApp As a Pioneer

When WhatsApp came around in 2009, it was the first of its kind. If today we can compare it with others which seem to have surpassed it on features and bells and whistles, such comparison could not have been done back then. At that time, there was Skype, which excelled for its voice and video calling. But Skype was more for the PC and made a very late entry into mobile phones. WhatsApp was more for messages; it was for messaging what Skype was for free calling.

Young people were and still are very much into the message thing, more than with calls. Viber came only in 2011, and other VoIP apps present at that time were solely for cutting cost on international calls, which was not at all the market for WhatsApp. Yes, at that time, WhatsApp wasn’t a VoIP app as such. It was just for messaging. So WhatsApp came on the market with a new communication model and came among the first.

WhatsApp Killed SMS

So youngsters, even as young as those in their 50s, are very much into texting. When WhatsApp came around, people were complaining about the price of SMS. SMS is expensive, limited, very limited indeed. WhatsApp came to solve this. You could send messages without counting words, without being deprived of multimedia content, and without being restricted to the number of contacts, for free; while in some parts of the world, one SMS could cost as much as a dollar!

WhatsApp Came for Messaging

When the app was launched, it was not for calling. It was for texting. So, instead of being perceived as an alternative to then-popular apps like Skype, where people would have to choose, it was welcomed as a new way of texting that could be there along with Skype. So there was always a place for it on smartphones irrespective of whether to use Skype or not.

You Are Your Number

But it went one step further than Skype in a certain direction, that of identifying users on the network. It started what was a new model of identification, and one that is more accessible and easy. It identifies people through their phone numbers. No need to ask for a username. If you have someone’s phone number in your contacts, it means they are already in your WhatsApp contacts if they are using the app. This made it easier for texting than Skype. On WhatsApp, you are easily found, since anyone having your number has you on the network, and you cannot choose to be offline. You also cannot hide behind a fake identity. These could stand as weaknesses for WhatsApp, but these have contributed to its popularity.​

Getting Everyone On Board - Many Platforms

Soon after the launch, WhatsApp has managed to get an app to users of all popular platforms, ranging from Android and iOS to Nokia phones, the latter being the most common phone in developing countries back then. So it has been able to gather people around every corner of the globe. It could even work on very old phones.

The Snowball Effect - Millions of Users

Which brings us to the huge number of users WhatsApp has gathered in a relatively short period of time. This number is actually the number on reason for bringing more people on board. As is the case with nearly all VoIP apps and services, you communicate for free with other people who are using the same service and app. So, you want to use the app that carries the largest number of users so as to increase your chance of finding people you can communicate with for free. As a result, what happened to Skype some years before happened to WhatsApp too.

New Features

WhatsApp’s features are not new anymore, and even compare negatively with those of other apps, but when WhatsApp launched in 2009, these features were new and pleased the new generation of texters. Among the features that made people happy are the group chat and the ability to send pictures and other multimedia elements along with messages. Now, new features are contributing to its success even more, like the free calling feature.

WhatsApp is for Mobile

You could carry WhatsApp in your pocket or bag, which was hardly possible with the others. More importantly, WhatsApp was made for mobile devices and not for computers. So it had the advantage of not having to adapt to the mobile environment, like its competitors which were PC natives. Moreover, as mentioned above, it could run on so many platforms. This came at a time which knew a boom in smartphone adoption and an unprecedented shift from the computer to the tablet PC and smartphone. This also came in a context where 2G and 3G data were getting more accessible and cheaper in many places.

No Ads

Everyone knows how annoying ads can be. WhatsApp hasn’t imposed ads on any of its users. This is because they too are annoyed with ads on the other side. If they show ads, they have to invest resources in data mining, tuning and everything that comes along with it. So by keeping ads away, they made everyone happy.

The Time Advantage

Remember how the tortoise won the race by taking advantage of the hare’s slumber? WhatsApp launched at a time when people needed what it had to offer and offered it somewhat unchallenged for a couple of years before real competition came around. By then the snowball effect had already started, which is the most important factor in its success.