What is WhatsApp, and how popular is it ?

by: Bogdan PetrovanFebruary 20, 2014


Yesterday evening, Facebook dropped the bomb: the social network giant will buy WhatsApp, a messaging service, for a total of $19 billion, including $16 billion in cash and stock, and $3 billion in restricted stock units for WhatsApp’s employees.

Several readers commented on our post on the acquisition along the lines of “I never heard of WhatsApp” or “What’s so special about it?” We’re explaining in this post.

From rags to riches

WhatsApp is a cross-platform instant messaging app for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian and other operating systems, that lets users communicate through text, voice, and images over Wi-Fi or cellular networks. It competes with services like Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, BBM, iMessage, Line, Viber, KakaoTalk, or Skype.

WhatsApp was created in early 2009 by Ian Koum, a Ukrainian immigrant living in Mountain View, California, who, at one point, had to rely on food stamps to make ends meet together with his mother.

whatsapp ian koum

Ian Koum, now 37, at the D Conference. Credit Daily Mail

Koum’s original idea was to give users a way to share statuses like “I am busy” or “At the gym” with people in their network. This is why the app is called “WhatsApp” – Koum chose the name because it sounded like “what’s up”, which was essentially what the app was originally meant to communicate to one’s contacts.

WhatsApp was first launched on the iPhone, and struggled in the beginning, with just a few dozen users using it actively. Then Apple introduced push notifications on iOS in June 2009, and Koum used the new feature to let users ping contacts every time they updated their status. People soon started to use this feature to talk with friends by updating their statuses, and, almost inadvertently, WhatsApp turned into a messaging service.

WhatsApp wasn’t the first cross platform messaging service, but it was special in that it used users’ phone numbers as “logins”, unlike apps like Skype or Gtalk, which required users to sign up for accounts. BBM did something similar, but it was restricted to BlackBerry devices, and stayed like that until late last year.

Since its modest beginnings in 2009, WhatsApp ballooned into a giant, by extending to Android, BlackBerry, and other platforms, and by continuously adding new features. And now Mark Zuckerberg dropped $19 billion on it, or about $42 per active user.


How big is WhatsApp?

Yesterday, Facebook announced some very impressive numbers about WhatsApp:

  • 450 million users using the service each month
  • 315 million users using the service every day
  • Number of sent messages on the service is rivaling the total number of SMS messages send in the world
  • One million new users register every day

So, if WhatsApp is so large and successful, how come there are people who are not familiar with it? The answer is localization – WhatsApp is very successful in some markets, such as Europe and Latin America, but lags behind in Asia or North America.

Here’s a map created by TechCrunch, showing the market share of the top messaging services across the world. The map uses data from Onavo, an analytics company that Facebook bought in October 2013, the last month when public data is available:


Click to enlarge

As you can see, WhatsApp is doing extremely well in Europe, crushing competitors in Spain, Germany, or Italy. The service is also strong in Brazil and Russia, but lags behind Facebook in North America, and behind Line and KakaoTalk in Japan and South Korea respectively.

According to Jana Mobile, WhatsApp holds shares of between 50 and 80 percent in fast growing emergent markets like India, South Africa, Nigeria, or Mexico.

There you have it – WhatsApp might not be a household name all over the world, but it’s strong in many huge markets, including some that are likely to grow the most in the next years. More importantly, WhatsApp is very popular in regions where Facebook Messenger is not doing so well, which is probably one of the main reasons behind the acquisition.

How popular is WhatsApp within your circles? Tell us in the comments.

[poll id=”470″]

  • Anonymous

    It’s the primary messaging app here in the Caribbean

  • Impheatus

    Primary messaging app in Mexico.
    I prefer other apps but I haven’t been able to sway my friends to those.
    Good news that Facebook bought WhatsApp, I hope they merge it with Facebook Messenger as I love the new FbM interface.

  • MasterMuffin

    I see people either using WhatsApp, Facebook messenger or Kik. BTW I can’t believe people who follow tech sites have never heard of WhatsApp!

    • Rapist on BAIL

      U mad bro?

    • Guest123

      never used it, but certainly hear about it a lot. Generally when I’m reading about it, it’s because it’s breaking something in Android and/or doesn’t work with something else, etc. . . lol

      • MasterMuffin

        Sounds about right, suits with FB perfectly :D

    • Juan A C

      In Argentina, regular people (non-tech savvy I mean) buy phones “with WhatsApp”, they don’t care about the OS, the features or anything else. That’s why there’s a good market share for shitty phones like the Nokia Asha line.
      That’s how popular WhatsApp is here.

  • asoko

    Are you sure Whatsapp is not popular in Asia??? It’s pretty huge in South East Asia. and have replaced everyone sms services (well, it’s free). Asia is not just Korea, Japan and China (where WeChat dominate) LOL (FYI, Lines is Japanese in origin while KakaoTalk is a Korean creation, hence it explains the popularity in those 2 countries respectively)

    • zackanfield

      Yeah, it’s also popular in Southeast Asia

    • Sethi

      In Thailand Line is definitely the most used app. Nobody here uses sms anymore.

  • Nidhish

    WhatsApp is SMS in India. Lol

    • Alexi

      And Lebanon :)

      • Stranger from a Far Coast

        And Malaysia.

        • José Martins Neto

          And Brazil

          • Bakr.ly

            and Libya

        • Juan A C

          And Argentina :)

      • Agung Sasmara Putra

        And Indonesia :)

    • luminelx64

      and Nigeria

      • Anggelos

        and Jamaica

    • Ahmed muzahmi

      and Oman

    • Yael Tamar

      and Israel. my estimate would be that 99% of the population with a smart phone use whatsapp. and that would make about 80% of the population

  • Maarten

    Only 1 person I know (with a phone that supports it) doesn’t use whatsapp.

  • Grman Rodriguez

    Others have tried, but no one has surpassed Whatsapp in Colombia

  • Renjith Menon

    Speaking of India, it’s pretty much the Sachin Tendulkar of messaging apps here.

    • nishantsirohi123

      you mean old , retired and sold off to big company

      • View From The Top

        LOL! I am was an SRT fan alright, but just had to appreciate the humor in your post. :-P Upvoted.

  • Bil

    WhatsApp is one of the most common messaging app in Singapore. It has replaced the SMS function almost entirely. Only using SMSes to message my mom/ dad mostly the older generation.

  • Oluwafemi Akinwa

    In Nigeria, you’re either WhatsApping (WhatsApp) or Pinging (BBM). You might find 2Go on some low end devices but WhatsApp & BBM are the most popular messaging app.

  • nctrnl

    Facebook probably only bought WhatsApp so that they could read people’s messages like they are now able to read your SMS messages by requesting permissions through the Facebook Android app. This will ultimately allow them to charge advertisers more for targeted ads.

  • Jaun Lombard

    There are only 3 apps in South Africa…BBM Messenger, MXIT and Whatsapp! Facebook shit messenger is slow! Who ever uses Facebook to comunicate is living in the past! MXIT is for people without smartphones and BBM for people that can only afford BBs and not a real Smartphone!

  • Juan Manuel Jurado Ruiz

    97% un Spain is even little… All people and all the smartphones have whatsapp. That’s because it was the first messages app in android that people know. It’s difficult this change.

  • Mike Bastable

    together with iOS in-built messenger, definitely the nr1 mssging app in the Netherlands

  • Ruz

    There was a time when gtalk could have really been v big today.. but it seems google dint find it profit at that point of time.. There was a time when half of the time people were on gtalk and use it as a messaging app much before whatsapp exists.. And honestly i loved using gtalk, msn and yahoo messaging app.. If desktop app had focused on mobile then it would be on top with more users then whatsapp..

    Its not that whatsapp is a perfect app… I personally not so found of it but i am using it only bcoz my friends r on whatsapp and they actively use it for spreading message or as a mean of communication then sms, mms, etc

  • Kambanka

    In Bulgaria is popular, too. A bit more than Viber, tho. For me it is a past era – already deleted after FB purchase. BTW, I see it dropping when most of the people are urged to pay in few months >:-)

  • gast

    Whattsapp is the biggest reason for me to have internet on my mobile , too bad facebook bought it.
    Gtrz from the Netherlands

  • Jose Torres

    I can’t use WhatsApp since it does not support KitKat 4.4?

  • GooGkhaN

    in turkey, whatsapp is the killer app for SMS and frontier of all messaging app. everone uses and BUYS ANDROIDS FOR ONLY WHATSAPP .

  • John-Phillip Saayman

    I had to laugh at “what is whatsapp”

  • John-Phillip Saayman

    In South Africa everyone has whatsapp. A lot still uses bbm

  • John-Phillip Saayman

    What does USA use? All their percentages are so low..

    • nishantsirohi123

      because majority of americans are isheep and whatsapp is a paid app on icrap

      • zackanfield


    • SnoProblem

      Most of the USA carriers don’t charge for SMS, so most don’t have any reason to use an app.

      • Don’t they charge for sending MMS either?

        • SnoProblem

          Not separately. MMS is included under SMS or data plan, depending on the carrier.

          The use of MMS (iMsg/GH/etc) apps is primarily for better handling of MMS, as most default SMS apps don’t display or route them correctly.

      • John-Phillip Saayman

        Thanks for clearing that up.

  • Siddhant Saxena

    What Mark Zuckerberg has to say about Facebook buying WhatsApp? Lol:)

    • nishantsirohi123

      seriously , why pay so much when you can download for free …!

  • Vyrlokar

    I live in Spain, and I’m one of the irreductibles that refuses to use it. Hangouts is awesome and comes preinstalled on every android device, and everyone has an account. It works on both phones, tablets and PCs, and if you have two phones, you don’t have to do tricks to have it on both…

  • Groud Frank

    Whatsapp is popular here in Trinidad and Tobago but I’m not sure about the rest of the Caribbean. Everyone with a smartphone has it. Whether or not they use it us ac different issue.

  • Stefan

    In Romania, some carriers offer a WhatsApp option that gives you unlimited traffic on the service for one euro a month.

  • Ian Huntly

    It is not free, hullo!

  • Denis De Fazio

    Everyone uses whatsapp in Brazil, there are no competitors even close to it. I prefer to use hangouts because I can use it on PC, but whatsapp is just too convenient, every number from your contacts are automatically added to your whatsapp contacts. I think that is the real advantage it has over other messaging apps, it is so simple even my mom uses it.

  • nishantsirohi123

    whatsapp is like the default, i have almost every messenger in my phone, still the max number of people i have is on whatsapp

  • Rohit Naik

    Lets Bring everyone on Whatsapp, even those who dont have a smartphone

    Please be free to share the video among your friends


  • I don’t use it… at all…. ever…..

  • Bogdan Cîrstea

    doesn’t anyone notice how, in Spain for example the percentage of people using WhatsApp is 97%, while Facebook is used by 13%? How does that give 100% when summed up?

    • Angelo Allegra

      Overlapping. Some people use both.

  • naviz

    I heard of it, but don’t see a point when I have unlimited global SMS included in my plan.

  • Ocab19

    I live in Spain. I have never seen a smartphone that doesn’t have Whatsapp. In fact nobody really uses SMS because we have to pay for every single one we send, but whatsapp is free. Whatsapp is THE messaging service. Everyone knows what it is even if they don’t have a smartphone.

  • wayne chan

    I hardly use this whatsapp, maybe twice a year. This app is popular for people with little imagination or people with short attention span. Ralph Nader label them, the unimaginables. I call these kinds of people, the text messages generation with no intellectual civic prowess.

    So the WhatsApp phenon is of no value to me
    because I am capable to produce my own designs.

    • chan wayne

      Good for you, now go buy a chocolate bar with the 5 bucks I gave you, then leave this forum and return back to your planet. You’re no good for us (humans).

  • Dhruvdutt Jadhav

    Could have included INDIA for market share! #TechCrunch

  • Engr Han Min Sein

    I’ve never used WhatsApp.. LOL~

  • fredphoesh

    I don’t get the advantage of Whatsapp over Hangouts. Hangouts can do more AFAIK, as well as being desktop friendly, especially if you are a gmail user… Is it that Whatsapp came out before Hangouts, or that there is a “google-has-too-much” backlash?

    • zucksucks

      yup. and now fb has too much, so like 50 million users flaked off whatscrap and got onto telegram. i’d say stop this stupid nonsense, and go for a xmpp clients. open standards FTW

    • I do think WA being the first is a big plus. Also if you want extra functionality (sending pics, sending audio) but don’t want a G account, you can use whatsapp.

  • Frenzy Austin

    Very less people use Whatsapp in Asia. Japan use LINE, Korean use Kakaotalk and China use Wechat. In Malaysia, we use LINE, Wechat and Facebook Messenger all the time.

  • Iwan Haniyoto

    WhatsApp so popular in Indonesia, is default cross platform messenger.
    Simple dan delivering very fast message on slow 3D connection in my country.

  • zucksucks

    our entire circle – couple of dozen people quit whatsapp the day fb deal was done. telegram has by now got 50 million user – all defected from whatsapp!

  • earnist


  • shpark

    Korean -Kakao talk
    Japanese -Line
    Chinese -WeChat
    aaannnd all otheres -Whatsapp

  • George Av

    I’ve sent less than 100 messages with whatsapp. Don’t even have it on my phone, hardly any of my friends use it. Instead we stick to Facebook messaging, SMS and BBM which in my opinion Smacks down all messaging apps out there.

  • Zamfir Waltz

    And Barbados

  • Shashank Bhardwaj

    WhatsApp plus is a wonderful mod of the app. It lets you hide your last seen, and change the UI in a million different ways: