What The Whatsapp Bombshell Means For Africa
In a blog post soon after celebrating its seventh anniversary, WhatsApp dropped a bombshell, saying it plans to stop supporting Blackberry and Nokia devices by the end of 2016, Techpoint.ng reported.
The world’s No. 1 instant messaging service is dropping its support for these devices “to focus our efforts on the mobile platforms the vast majority of people use,” according to the WhatsApp blog.
WhatsApp clearly wasn’t considering Nigerians — a major part of Africa and of their market — when it made this decision, said Victor Ekwealor, a tech editor at Techpoint.
The blog post advised “dumb-phone” users to upgrade to a newer Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone before the end of 2016 to continue using WhatsApp.
In North America, mobile Internet traffic is dominated by YouTube and Facebook, according to Sandvine, Wired reported. In 2012, Forbes described WhatsApp as the biggest social network you never heard of.
Facebook bought WhatsApp for about $22 billion in 2014 and that got the world’s attention. It’s popular in Africa because it lets people exchange texts without paying big fees to carriers, according to an earlier AFKInsider report.
Most people will be forced to buy more expensive devices and WhatsApp is going to lose hundreds of thousands, even millions of subscribers from Africa who can’t afford smartphones, Ekwealor said. “But losing a couple million bottom-of-the-pyramid users is probably not a big deal for a platform with over 1 billion active users and counting,” he added.
The devices that will be affected include mobiles running BlackBerry 10 and older, Android 2.2 and older, Windows 7.1, Nokia S40 and Nokia Symbian S60 by the end of this year, according to HTXT.
“While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future,” WhatsApp said.
This may not mean much in developed countries, but many users in developing countries like South Africa will essentially have one of the most widely used apps in the world cut off, HTXT reported.
More than 90 percent of South Africans have a mobile phone, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center. However, other data show that the majority of mobile users don’t own a smartphone, but rather a 2G Internet-enabled phone, or dumb phone — phones with no Internet access at all.
Smartphones are more common in the U.S. and Europe, less so in developing countries.
South Africa has more than 4 million BlackBerry users and 10 million-plus WhatsApp users, according to market researchers World Wide Worx.
WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging service in the country. WeChat is No. 2, according to the GlobalWebIndex.
WeChat is owned by Tencent Holdings, the world’s fifth largest Internet company, and it’s gaining traction fast in Africa, HuffingtonPost reported:
Outside China, WeChat is largely misunderstood. Referred to as “Twitter on steroids” or “WhatsApp’s rival messaging service,” the mobile app has arguably outgrown even its Chinese name, Weixin, which translates as “tiny message.” Five-year-old WeChat is far more than a social network or messaging service. The mobile app can perhaps be more accurately described as a gamified WhatsApp-Facebook hybrid, with all the social applications of both, along with a Tinder-like dating feature, voice and video calls and a multi-functional digital wallet, all rolled into one.
The African market is a logical next step in WeChat’s growth trajectory.
Users on Android 2.1 and 2.2, and Windows 7.1 have the option to upgrade to a higher version, but that’s not the case with BlackBerry 10 and Nokia Symbian. Their only option will be to use WeChat, HTXT reported.
According to TheInquirer, some BlackBerry users launched an online petition that reads, “WhatsApp decided to stop supporting BlackBerry 10 at the end of this year. This is non sense a lot of people still use the platform daily. I hope WhatsApp/Facebook sees this. At least give us the service with no updates. Please share this with your friends! WhatsApp will hear us (and) care about us.”
WhatsApp says times are changing
WhatsApp said BlackBerry and Nokia commanded 70 percent of mobile devices when the messaging app launched in 2007, according to TheInquirer. This figure has now shrunk to less than 1 percent, while Apple, Google and Microsoft now account for 99.5 percent of smartphones sold globally, according to WhatsApp.
WhatsApp suggested “upgrading to a newer Android, iPhone or Windows Phone” to continue using the service.
“WhatsApp’s community has more than doubled since joining Facebook,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said as he celebrated reaching the 1 billion mark, according to TheInquirer. “We’ve added the ability for you to call loved ones far away. We’ve dropped the subscription fee and made WhatsApp completely free. Next, we’re going to work to connect more people around the world and make it easier to communicate with businesses.”