WhatsApp’s Popularity Abroad vs. In the US

WhatsApp, the the wildly popular messaging app, named for it’s play on the phrase “what’s up,” has recently released a statement saying that they would be returning their service to the whopping price of FREE. This is good news for WhatsApp’s over 990 million active users, double what it was just two years ago. If you signed up prior to 2013 (the app launched in 2009) you were grandfathered into continued use of the app for free. Otherwise after your first year free, you paid 99 cents each year. WhatsApp has said that that’s not how they want to do business so they’re returning to the way it was when they first launched. They will also offer their service ad-free.

WhatsApp is extremely popular in Latin America and dominates the global messaging game. Of mobile phone internet users in Brazil, 93 percent actively use the app and correspondingly, 84 percent in Argentina. It is similarly popular across the globe (excluding the US and China) with 81 percent of internet users in Italy and 77 percent throughout the Middle East using the app for example. Brazil and Mexico alone comprised 38 percent of WhatsApp users when there were half as many worldwide users. With its still growing popularity, one can only imagine what it is now. Yet only one- third of internet users from the United States have downloaded the app. So why is it so popular internationally but not here in the US?

In the United States we have flat rate SMS texting that comes standard on nearly all phone carriers whereas in other countries it can cost on average $0.11 per text. This is not the whole of it though. It is because the US caters solely to the domestic market. The rest of the world is on the globalization train with friends and business taking place in neighboring countries and across the globe. The app is necessary to chat with friends abroad. International text messaging in the US is expensive regardless of carrier but in general we have less of a focus on making and maintaining these friendships. “Internationalism isn’t part of our cultural framework.” The one- third of US app users are primarily travelers or people who have been abroad. Students going abroad will download the app before leaving and even if they don’t get a local phone number once they arrive, they can give out their US number.

In Latin America though, the use of WhatsApp facilitates daily communication and has practically replaced texting (even within their country’s borders). WhatsApp is perfect for the developing world where less mature carriers means a higher dependence on the app. WhatsApp is also extremely accessible across devices: iOS, Android, Blackberry, etc. as opposed to a service such as FaceTime or iMessage which are for iOS users only. It is also better for people who like to keep their chats disassociated from their Facebook profiles. WhatsApp utilizes phone contacts instead of Facebook friend contacts (like Facebook Messenger does). So have you downloaded WhatsApp yet?



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