What bothers me about Google trying to acquire WhatsApp

I don’t think WhatsApp requires any introduction since most of us are already on it and sending messages to friends and family using this app. Over the past few days, the news vine has been flooded with rumors that Google is looking at acquiring WhatsApp. Let’s first see why Google thinks this messaging platform is good for their product line.

What’s in it for Google?

Let’s start with what WhatsApp has to offer. They have a very popular platform with users from across the globe on a variety of platforms. They also have a hugely scalable application and infrastructure in place. In fact, did you know that during the New Year eve, they processed more than 18 billion message in a day! That goes to show how successful their existing platform is.  One reason for their popularity is the variety of smartphones and feature phones the app supports.

They are currently monetizing their platform, which means they are making money, whether it’s enough or not, they’re still able to rope in some cash. They charge a nominal annual subscription of 0.99 per year, and the industry estimates that they have around 200-300 million active users. The actual revenues may be less, given that they do give a year’s worth of free access to first time users. Nevertheless, if Instagram, a company with no revenue stream can be bought for around $1Billion, WhatsApp with their ability to monetize should command more. The question is whether Google actually needs this revenue?

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Google’s competitior, iOS from Apple already features a iMessage, which allows users to send unlimited text messages over WiFi, but this is limited to only iOS users and Google really needs something like WhatsApp preloaded  and integrated with Google’s platform on the Android to catch up with iOS. (Thanks to Cherian for pointing this out in the comment below)

Boosting Google’s sagging Social Network Portfolio

Google is looking at boosting their Social Network portfolio to compete with the likes of Facebook. Their Google Plus network and Hangouts are being used, but not at the scale Facebook operates at. Google still has a long way to go to get adoption on their platform. Even today I still don’t see many of my non-tech friends active on Google Plus, which means that I still have to keep in touch with them on Facebook.

To top it off, Google still doesn’t have a messaging system for the mobile. Of course, there’s Google Talk and Hangouts, but they are not really easy to use on the mobile, especially when one has to setup a predefined group and communicate with that group. There’s also the problem of cross-platform compatibility, chatting or hanging-out with friends who are on Blackberry, iOS, Android, Symbian and Windows Phone just doesn’t work seamlessly.

Even their biggest rival, Facebook was missing this aspect of social interaction on mobile, and they’ve been quickly and fervently working on bridging this gap. They’re now trying to promote downloads of their Facebook Messenger app which tried to integrate text messages along with Facebook Messaging.

So Google needs WhatsApp now!

Trouble Brewing?

Of course a lot can go right with WhatsApp if Google does agree to buy them out, but it’s what can go wrong which people should think about. Here’s some probable scenarios:

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  • Cutting out Platforms – Google could always decide that some platforms are not worth developing on and discontinue support for Symbian variant, Blackberry and who knows Windows Phone? Given the recent history with Google and Windows Phone, Google’s really not bothered about following their  ‘Don’t be evil‘ motto. I just don’t trust Google as much these days.
  • Deciding to Merge WhatsApp into a totally new App – People are used to their WhatApp! Google may just decide that their Messaging platform, Babel,  is better (even if it isn’t) and merge WhatsApp users over their new shiny app.
  • Leave WhatApp to rot in it’s current state with no more updates – This is a possibility if Google realizes that they don’t want to invest time and money in further development of this platform after they buy it. A classic example of this kind of move from Google is Feedburner, the feed distribution service. Google bought Feedburner, made a few minor updates over the years and now it’s rotting with no updates and users are awaiting Google’s decision to axe the service.
  • Close down WhatsApp – There have been a lot of news buzz of the recent decision from Google on discontinuing the Google Reader service. There are chances that WhatsApp can go down this route as well, leaving all users of the app stranded, and hopping to other similar apps.

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I just don’t want to loose my favorite Messaging Platform if and when they’re bought by Google. What are your thoughts on this? Do let us know by commenting below.

3 comments On What bothers me about Google trying to acquire WhatsApp

  • Rolling out a free messaging app to the Android users (similar to Apple’s iMessage) is important for Google to regain parity with Apple in the messaging space. It also hits Carriers where it hurts – as messaging revenues is a substantive portion of their current revenues. There is a social play as well – because it can build in other enhanced services on top of WhatsApp that ties it with the other assets such as Google+

    • Yes, you’re right about that. I didn’t think about the messaging parity which Apple and Blackberry have. Thanks for chiming in.

      Regarding the messaging revenues, carriers are already loosing out there since people are already using WhatsApp and other similar apps to save on carrier costs for this.

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