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Will WhatsApp Win Messaging Wars? What Is WhatsApp Anyway?

Backed by the wide-scale social influence of Facebook, WhatsApp appears poised to have an even greater impact on the global communications market, including voice calling as well as text messaging services. Yesterday, the Facebook-owned mobile messaging service announced it is now supporting more than 100 million voice calls every day, a service it began offering just 18 months ago.

WhatsApp also rolled out a desktop version of its application this week, mirroring recent moves by Facebook’s other communication app, Messenger.

What Is WhatsApp?

In a nutshell, the company describes WhatsApp Messenger as a cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.

Launched in 2010, WhatsApp was designed to enable instant communication for smartphone users, who would not have to pay a fee for each SMS text message they sent. With a name like “What’s Up?,” the app gradually became popular as an alternative to text messaging through service providers who charge by the message.

WhatsApp Messenger works with iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Nokia smartphones, using the same internet data plan that users have for their email and web browsing. In addition to basic messaging, WhatsApp also lets users send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.

By 2013, the app’s user base had grown to 200 million, becoming especially popular in developing economies like India and Brazil. In early 2014, Facebook purchased WhatsApp for around $20 billion. Today, the service has some 1 billion users around the world, including a fast-growing user-base in the U.S.

Battle for Mobile Messaging Dominance

Speaking with USA Today this week, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum said he would eventually like to see everyone who owns a smartphone using his app. “We’re nowhere near that,” he told the paper. “But we hope that over a certain period of time we will get that critical mass.”

If nothing else, the company appears to be in a good position to beat its biggest rivals — Google and Microsoft’s Skype — in the mobile messaging space, the investment site The Motley Fool said this week.

“Unless Microsoft and Google can convince users to stop using Facebook to stay in touch with others, their messaging apps will likely remain second-tier choices,” The Motley Fool noted. “Meanwhile, Facebook will likely capitalize on its current lead and use Messenger and WhatsApp to create new walled gardens that are isolated from iOS, Android, and PC-based messaging solutions.”

More Services Coming Soon?

So how much growth potential does WhatsApp actually have? An academic study by German researchers published last summer found that WhatsApp accounted for about 20 percent of all user activity on smartphones, with women and young people using the app most. With an average daily smartphone usage of 162 minutes a day, WhatsApp took up more than 32 minutes of that time, the researchers found.

Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., told us last week that the key to any app’s success today is how well it can attract and keep users engaged in “mobile moments.”

The fact that Facebook now reports more than 1.5 billion mobile active users every month offers great potential synergy for WhatsApp as well. And the company could be adding even more services in the near future to draw users in: screenshots of WhatsApp developer work show the company appears to be working on a music-sharing feature as well, according to a report earlier this week in the Apple-focused, German-language site, Macerkopf.de.

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