WhatsApp Is the World’s Default Communication App engadget.com

Pranav Dixit, Engadget:

“WhatsApp is kind of like a media platform and kind of like a messaging platform, but it’s also not quite those things,” Surya Mattu, a researcher at Princeton who runs the university’s Digital Witness Lab, which studies how information flows through WhatsApp, told Engadget. “It has the scale of a social media platform, but it doesn’t have the traditional problems of one because there are no recommendations and no social graph.”

Indeed, WhatsApp’s scale dwarfs nearly every social network and messaging app out there. In 2020, WhatsApp announced it had more than two billion users around the world. It’s bigger than iMessage (1.3 billion users), TikTok (1 billion), Telegram (800 million), Snap (400 million) and Signal (40 million.) It stands head and shoulders above fellow Meta platform Instagram, which captures around 1.4 billion users. The only thing bigger than WhatsApp is Facebook itself, with more than three billion users.

This is a great look at WhatsApp’s history, its ups-and-downs, and some of the unique risks it has.

Via John Gruber:

Anecdotally, I’m seeing more American usage of WhatsApp too. Putting aside the (deeply misguided, IMO) antitrust arguments about iMessage, Apple’s decade ago decision to eschew an iMessage client for Android might be proven to have been a mistake the old-fashioned way: through market forces.

It is not only an anecdote; a January report from Apptopia indicates a growing U.S. user base.

The question of iMessage durability has been in the back of my mind as I have covered years of “blue bubble” lock-in chatter and, if I were a faster writer, it would have been in front of your eyes, too. For all the concern about Apple’s supposed ability to keep people using iPhones because of iMessage, it only affects a handful of countries. Even then, people use multiple clients. While I love the idea of separating the messaging protocol from its client in theory, it is hard to see a story of predatory behaviour.

One-to-one or small group messaging seems to me like a fragile basis for differentiation in its own right, and makes more sense as part of a larger suite of capabilities. WhatsApp seems to be growing that by way of Channels and its business platform. I cannot count the number of businesses I have seen in countries outside Canada and the U.S. that have a WhatsApp chat as the main point of contact — not email, and not a telephone number per se, but messaging through WhatsApp specifically.

Apple arguably has similar ambitions in building up Messages, though it has been slower to react. A few years ago, Apple added business chat through third-party messaging platforms. In the U.S., there is also the Apple Cash feature for peer-to-peer money transfers.

There are two questions about these messaging clients I have been mulling over, both of which were raised in social media mentions to me I cannot seem to find. The first is whether it makes sense to embrace WhatsApp and encourage the growth of a dominant platform run by a truly terrible company. That is a complicated and personal question but, thankfully, there is a Digital Markets Act solution: users in the E.U. will be able to securely message WhatsApp users without needing to use it directly.

The second question is more nuanced: if there is concern about messaging platforms based on their size, surely it makes sense to be just as worried about WhatsApp and iMessage depending on geography. In other words, my somewhat glib response to the Beeper Mini rollercoaster of support — “the most common reasons cited for cross-platform compatibility […] are resolved for everyone if we choose a different app” — ignores how iMessage is, for many people in the U.S., as central as WhatsApp is elsewhere. That is a fair response but, I think, still misses how plentiful messaging clients are. I think I would prefer a completely interoperable world so that my chats are not split between Messages, WhatsApp, Signal, and Instagram — but I also cannot say that it is so bothersome to have options. The market for messaging is not a pie chart, it is a bar chart.