updated 09:15 pm EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
First year free, then $1 per year as with other platforms
Mobile messaging service WhatsApp plans to move its iOS program (which delivers free SMS-like messages to other WhatsApp users) to an annual subscription model rather than the one-time fee the app currently charges. The subscription would be very low-cost as well -- the first year free, then just $1 per year afterwards -- but would increase revenue and move the app to the same model the company uses on all other platforms it serves. The plan may not affect current users, but will face competition.
So far, the biggest selling points of WhatsApp has been its avoidance of advertising, preferring to have users pay for the app (or subscribe to the service) -- along with its large and growing user base of more than 100 million subscribers. Currently the service delivers 17 billion messages every day and is regarded as the most popular alternative messaging service outside of Apple's own iMessage service, which hasn't released recent figures but announced last year that it was handling more than a billion messages per day. Apple's Messages app has become so popular that it was blamed in part for the first-ever decrease in annual SMS text messaging last year.
The company is facing competition from alternatives such as Line, which also posts more than 100 million global users but makes its money through in-app accessory purchases and a more socially-oriented approach that includes access to games and free voice calls. WhatsApp's CEO Jan Koum, in an interview with a Dutch journalist, deflected questions about timetables for the switch, as well as acquisition rumors.
He said that the company has a good relationship with some carriers, despite taking revenue away from their own profitable messaging services, and added that a desktop version was not likely to be forthcoming, nor would streaming video chatting be added any time soon. On the lack of a desktop client, Koum said that while the company gets asked about one a lot, "we feel strongly that the world is moving to mobile, and [thus] we want to be mobile-only. Your phone is with you all the time, and the desktop is to many becoming a secondary experience."