A little less than a decade back, our phones were predominantly consumed to send and receive text messages, make voice calls, and we had just about started to configure our official and personal emails on our devices. It was a prodigious feeling to be able to check emails in an instant, and not wait till we landed our hands on a desktop or laptop. So much so that we hankered to receive even more emails, and frequently refreshed our inboxes in anticipation. The adverse effect, of course we all face now, is that we’re governed by the unsaid rule of “responding to emails immediately”. Otherwise short discussions that would transpire via a phone conversation or a quick text message, began turning into one line emails with plenty of other (mostly irrelevant) people marked on CC. There was a sense of accomplishment that we could march into office every morning with no emails pending to be read and most of the responses done with. We even started to have our phones placed next to our plates on the lunch table. A morsel here and a tab there.
Just about then (around 2009-10), a little piece of technology called “WhatsApp” came into our lives. Many of us didn’t even have “smart” phones at the time. We were pretty much wedded to our good old, and if I may add, indispensable Nokia phones, or the ever so proficient business class BlackBerry. Some of us had moved to the likes of a Samsung or an HTC, and we had even fewer proprietors of the plush iPhone.
A Simple Name, And Even Simpler Utility!
The name “WhatsApp” was clearly derived from the overused (and apparently uber cool) parlance “Wassup” fused with the word “App” which we have in abundance on our phones today. Keeping true to its name, WhatsApp was essentially an instant messaging app with other media sharing options like image, audio files etc. It worked on one’s device, using a mobile number for one-time registration. It was as simple as that! Only, it needed one to have an internet plan on the device or be connected to a WiFi network.
While WhatsApp started to gain ground, many telecom operators felt the heat and offered various SMS/Text messaging packs like unlimited free texts, 1000 texts for just Rs. XX per month and so on. I’m sure many of them did well too, as texts worked on regular mobile connection, unlike WhatsApp that needed to be connected to the internet. Another contention to reckon with was the default instant messaging app that every BlackBerry device came pre-installed with – BBM, an abbreviation for BlackBerry Messenger. It was as good as WhatsApp and pretty well established too; however, it was limited to single platform BlackBerry devices, unlike WhatsApp which connected cross-platform devices. Also, BBM required one to add contacts using the unique BB pin that every BlackBerry device had. Whereas WhatsApp simply picked up everyone in the phone’s contact list that also had the app installed on the device.
Moving To Internet-Packs Or We’d Rather Say “WhatsApp Packs”!
Gradually there was a realisation that recharging for data packs and using it for WhatsApp made more sense than spending on SMS packs. Most of the just-about-to-become-smart phones barely had anything else on the phone that would consume the internet, so there wasn’t much of a worry exhausting the internet quota for the day/week/month. And for some who had the privilege of their company chipping in for phone bills, didn’t bat an eyelid before adding on a data pack to their postpaid plans. It made sense for organisations too as it did save cost. Text messages however still remained quite prevalent; unless you knew someone fairly well, it wasn’t polite to start a conversation on WhatsApp just yet. It would much rather be on text message to start with.
An App Or A Phone Feature?
Soon with the help of internet penetration in India, WhatsApp started getting installed in almost every phone that was purchased; and most often it was the first App to get installed. In many cases, it also remained the only App that ever got installed on the device. In fact, Nokia and WhatsApp engaged in a pact where Nokia pre-loaded the WhatsApp application on some of its handset models. Back in the day, it was a cracker of a deal. WhatsApp for many, became the primary reason for purchase of a phone, making it almost a default feature of the mobile handset rather than an external application that’s an add-on.
A few years passed, and we saw ownership of WhatsApp Inc. change hands when Facebook took over the company for a mind-boggling price tag. They obviously saw immense value to be unlocked as WhatsApp had matured into a hygiene feature of every phone and the default communication option for nearly everyone who had access to the internet on their handsets.
Challenging Conventional Marketing Norms!
In more ways than one, WhatsApp wrecked centuries-old dogmas around marketing theories and principles. It did not cater to any specific or defined target audience; it was used by almost everyone across the globe – in local trains in Mumbai, to those flying business class across different countries, small villages to big corporate offices, landlords to domestic help, cab and auto drivers, rural and urban towns alike. All of them were making most of this piece of technology; for the basic need that it fulfilled – (notionally) free instant messaging. Nothing fancy, nothing cool, not the best-looking app, no out-of-this-world features. Plain and simple, instant messaging. It cut across age groups, geography, gender, class, mobile handset categories, and whatever other sophisticated market segmentation one could fathom. Except maybe a few celebrities (and wannabe celebrities), who did not want to show up on the WhatsApp list of anyone unknown or unwanted; that’s where BBM scored over WhatsApp with its unique BBM pin feature.
No Longer An App!
WhatsApp is no longer treated as “an App”! It has become an intrinsic feature of every mobile device. Pronounced in different accents, by different age groups in their own unique way. The “group chat” feature on WhatsApp has, to quite an extent curtailed the use of official email too, with plenty of discussions and decisions being made over informal group chats. CXOs of large organisations have gone on to say that they have tonnes unread emails, as a bulk of their work gets taken care of on WhatsApp groups. Not to mention the use of WhatsApp Web, which is slowly becoming a default window we all have open on our computers while at work. Most of us assume that every person we meet has WhatsApp on their mobile phone and would be okay conversing on it. “Are you on WhatsApp?” has become a rhetoric question of sorts.
Such has become the inherent consumption of this piece of technology, that if we’re asked to count the number of apps we have on our phones, at first go we’d probably miss WhatsApp in the tally.
#WhatsApp #App #iOS #Android #AreYouOnWhatsApp #InstantMessaging #BBM #TheInsidePages #Technology #WhatsAppGroup