What’s up with WhatsApp?

Dear PropellerHeads: I was abroad last month and all the kids over there seemed to be using something called What’s Up. What’s up with that?

A: Mmmm. What’s Up. Reminds me of the day in junior high school when I realized I didn’t have a good sense of hearing. A friend of mine and I are belting out the chorus to ’65 Love Affair only I shrieked “’65 Lover Man.” Clearly, it scarred me for life.

I hate to break it to you, but the app is called WhatsApp (whatsapp.com), not What’s Up, though I understand your confusion. It is one of the most popular apps in the world, but if you don’t travel abroad frequently or have international friends, chances are you have never heard of it. It was the first app I ever installed that had hit the 1 Billion Download mark on my Android.

So what is it? Text, SMS, IM, zenning… whatever the hipsters are calling it these days. Seriously, that’s about it. But, it does have certain advantages over your standard texting app.

Chances are, you have unlimited texting, right? So why would you need a separate texting app? Well, those unlimited texts are only within the United States. If you send a message internationally, you are now looking at 50 cents a pop and that can add up to a lot of Euros. Especially these days.

WhatsApp uses whatever data connections you have at your disposal in order to communicate internationally. And provided you are not roaming or have exceeded your data quota for the month, it will all theoretically be free.

Best of all, unlike most other apps, WhatsApp is ad-free, though it does have a very reasonable $1 subscription fee after the free first year. Compare that one dollar to the hundreds of texts I sent my wife while she was studying abroad this summer and I’ve saved myself enough to buy about 25 percent of one share of Google. Make that 24 percent… hold on, 22 percent!

WhatsApp also has Group Chat and, much like Skype, you can make phone calls. Again, because it uses your data connections, all theoretically free.

The biggest improvement to the texting experience I found is that WhatsApp has a series of check marks for each message so you will know the three stages of message delivery: 1) message sent, 2) message received, 3) message actually read. So you will know immediately when your friends are ignoring you. Well, at least you’ll know, right?

One minor disadvantage is that in order to communicate with WhatsApp, all parties will need WhatsApp installed. But that is pretty standard. Installation and setup were super quick. All I had to do was confirm via a one-time standard SMS what my telephone number was, and then in seconds all of the people in my contact list who already have WhatsApp installed magically appeared.

Of course, WhatsApp hasn’t cornered the market. There are several other apps that are vying for your international chats. Some of the most popular are Kik (kik.com), LINE (line.me), Telegram (telegram.org), Viber (viber.com), WeChat (wechat.com) and the aforementioned Skype (skype.com). Telegram in particular gets noted a lot because it focuses more on security.

If you are still not impressed, consider that Facebook forked over $19 billion for WhatsApp last year. That’s a lot of SMS, even for me!

With WhatsApp, I’m now ready to embarrass myself with all of the Spanish in-laws: Hey, hey, macadamia!

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