If it wasn’t for the size of the deal, Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp, announced earlier on Wednesday, would have gone unnoticed, and unreported in the US. But not at $19 billion.
Most publications reacted with wonderment at first. But, like the venerable Wall Street Journal, quickly followed up with a package to explain to Americans why they ought to take note.
WhatsApp’s free first-year messaging service was never pushed in the US — but the small 50-employee start-up never did make much of a pitch for any market.
It grew mostly by word of mouth to around 450 million users.
But it’s not quite clear why it never caught on in the US.
In a conference call with investors, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted WhatsApp was not known much in the US, but offered no explanation.
The journal argued that WhatsApp never had much of a chance in the the US because most phone users get unlimited texting as part of their monthly plan. Not true, until recently. And not all plans still offer unlimited texting.
Blackberry’s BBM offered an alternative, but its market has shrunk rapidly in recent years, which would, once again, leave the market open to WhatsApp, or a rival.
The messaging service is an attractive alternative to cellular texting, which can get expensive, as it comes free in the first year, and then goes for $0.99 a year.
It has grown rapidly in the five year since its launch, but mostly in Europe, Latin American and India. Though available in Japan and South Korea, it hasn’t fared well against local rivals.