WhatsApp, the world’s most popular messaging service, has decided to drop its 69p annual subscription, making the app completely free.
With around a billion people using the app every month, dropping the small charge is set to cost the Facebook-owned instant messenger a lot of money. So does that mean WhatsApp will now serve you up ads?
Nope, the company has been very clear that it won’t start selling ad space in the app. Instead, WhatsApp wants to become the go-to service for contacting your bank, energy company and other businesses.
WhatsApp’s announcement said: “Naturally, people might wonder how we plan to keep WhatsApp running without subscription fees and if today's announcement means we're introducing third-party ads. The answer is no. Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations [sic] that you want to hear from.
“That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight.
“We all get these messages elsewhere today – through text messages and phone calls – so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.”
Why has WhatsApp gone free?
So why does WhatsApp think we can’t afford its 69p subscription? Well, it points to its big growth markets in the developing world.
Cheap smartphones are opening up opportunities for the world’s poorest people, and free communication is key to that. Many people around the world don’t have bank accounts, debit cards or credit cards, making it impossible for them to subscribe to WhatsApp under the company’s current fee-paying model.
“Many WhatsApp users don't have a debit or credit card number and they worried they'd lose access to their friends and family after their first year. So over the next several weeks, we'll remove fees from the different versions of our app and WhatsApp will no longer charge you for our service,” said WhatsApp.
Getting a high-quality app for free is always good news, so we couldn’t be happier with WhatsApp’s decision. Let’s just hope the company keeps its word and doesn’t get tempted by ads that would ruin the experience.