Tuesday, March 19, 2013

WhatsApp preps for change to iOS subscription model

Platform-independent mobile messaging app WhatsApp is set to change its modus operandi. Available for Android, BlackBerry, Nokia S40, Symbian, Windows Phone and iPhone, the company uses a subscription on all but the latter. On Sunday, though, Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s CEO, said that the company is planning this year to shift its iOS app away from a single payment download to a subscription fee.

The new subscription model would apply only to new users, Koum said. Those who had already purchased the app would be grandfathered in. The app currently costs $0.99. The subscription fee would likely be the same as the company's other apps, which are free for the first year and then cost $1 per year.

Koum said:
We’re relaxed on dates, but definitely this year. It’s on the road map.
Some other tidbits of information that Koum revealed:

WhatsApp is not likely to make a desktop version of its service anytime soon.
We get that question asked a lot [desktop apps]. We feel strongly that the world is moving to mobile and [so] we want to be mobile-only. Your phone is with you all the time, and desktop is to many becoming a secondary experience. [So] our answer is no, not anytime soon.
Notably, Kik Messenger, another popular mobile-only app, has also been asked, numerous times, for a desktop version.

In terms of adding live streaming video to WhatsApp, the answer is “definitely not this year,” said Koum.

Koum wouldn't comment on acquisition rumors but did give a wider statement on exit strategies in general.
We don’t discuss exit strategies internally. A lot of companies in Silicon Valley talk about exit strategies. The way we look at it, is it’s like entering a marriage and talking about divorce. We just don’t have one. We don’t have one because we don’t plan or want to think about it. We want to focus on good products.
Mobile instant messaging services cannibalize carrier revenue made from text messages. Since text messages ride for free atop the wireless carrier signal, they are a cash cow for carriers.

They also use virtually no bandwidth, which is why emergency personnel say text messages, rather than phone calls, should be used in the case of an emergency. Not only phone calls, but alternative services like WhatsApp, which rely on a data connection, may not work during an emergency, while texting will still be usable.

Despite this, Koum said,
We understand that a lot of people are switching to our product instead of SMS but we look at it as evolution.

We actually have really good relationships with a lot of carriers. We’re doing some revolutionary stuff. The world is switching to data [and we have] some good partnerships, for example with Three in Hong Kong (that partnership gives Three subscribers access to WhatsApp when they travel internationally for the equivalent of about $6 per day).
WhatsApp is an extremely popular messaging app, transmitting 17 billion messages -- 10 billion outbound and seven billion inbound -- daily.

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