Okay – so WhatsApp is nothing new. In fact, a number of you have probably heard of it. A number of you probably already use it. But – even if this review brings WhatsApp to only a few new users – it will be worth it.
Why? Because WhatsApp is just that great – and it’s especially great for people who are traveling constantly and trying to stay in touch with people in different countries – people who have different mobile phone service providers. In other words: It’s especially great for people in the yachting industry.
Given that mobile phone providers are inherently covetous (they only want you to operate within their service area, and with other phones that are under their service contracts), they can be incredibly vindictive when you try to move beyond them. This generally results in added service fees and international rates and a whole litany of special charges that you’ll only find in the fine print of exhaustive contracts.
That’s exactly where WhatsApp comes in. The app bypasses the cross-network cluster by feeding everything through your phone’s data service at no extra charge. In this way, it’s able to provide cross-platform messaging – SMS, photo, video, voice – to just about anyone with a functioning phone these days.
And it provides all of this practically for free. (Technically, only the first year is free and then there's a $0.99-per-year fee after that.)
Essentially, WhatsApp brings you closer with the people you care most about – allowing you unfettered communication without the worries of whether it will break the bank.
In basic terms, WhatsApp is a simple messaging service. As The Financial Times noted, it has “done to SMS on mobile phones what Skype did to international calling on landlines.”
In order for the app to work, both sender and receiver must have downloaded WhatsApp. From there, it goes through your known contacts (a little creepy, because it knows so much about you, but also incredibly convenient) and gets you set up. You can also search for contacts it might have missed.
From there, it’s about as simple as it gets. You can send individual messages or group messages similar to GroupMe, where you have a whole bunch of people sharing videos and voice messages and simple texts, all straightforward and easy to use. The videos and photos don’t take you away from the chat screen – they simply enlarge to fill most of your screen and then return you to the message board once you’ve finished. It works in the same way with voice messages.
A particularly nice feature is that it enables ongoing conversations between multiple users, allowing the feel of a real interaction between a group of family or friends.
One of its more recent developments has been to allow you to share locations with people. This could either be your current location (meet me here now!) or the location of a restaurant, bar, movie theater (meet me here in 30 minutes!). It all links to the map-function on your particular device to make everything easy and seamless.
WhatsApp’s success has been significant – its growth extraordinary.
Its success has largely spoken for itself, since the developers – a group of former Yahoo! employees – haven’t sold advertisements or spent money on promotion. For a long time, the Silicon Valley-based founders wouldn’t even speak to publications that were writing about their app. Even when they did speak up, it was mostly to explain their silence.
However, they could simply be trying not to run afoul of the telecom providers – many of whom are not very happy that such a loophole has been found. After all, the companies profited handsomely from these services and claim that it is undercutting their profits, which (if we’re honest) isn’t such a bad thing.
The app was developed by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, both of whom worked for many years at Yahoo! They launched WhatsApp in 2009 and it grew slowly in a grassroots manner. By late 2011, it announced that its users sent a billion messages in a single day
In an interview with The Financial Times, Koum said, “We want to build something that is awesome for users and great for them but also something we are proud about on the tech side – rather than just going out and spending lots of money on servers. Anyone can do that, it doesn’t take a lot of brain.”
Acton told The Financial Times that the two wanted “to build a product people can rely on. On the internet there is a lot of flash and fad. What we are trying to build here is long-term persistent sustainability.”
Not only has it so far achieved this ideal, but it has done so across just about every format. It works on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia S40, Symbian and Windows Phone.
The app is initially free for one year, with each subsequent year costing $0.99 annually. However, given the amount of money it helps you save from the telecom providers, it’s easily worth the cost of a song on iTunes.
So, go ahead and get connected!