WhatsApp Gets U.S. Bounce From Facebook Deal

If WhatsApp wasn’t growing fast enough already, the messaging app is enjoying a fresh wave of adoption following announcement of its blockbuster $19 billion acquisition by Facebook.

The spike in downloads is especially pronounced in the U.S. App Store, where WhatsApp has jumped from No. 37 in the overall ranking of free iPhone apps on Tuesday -- the day before the Facebook announcement -- to No. 4 as of Friday.

It has also gone from No. 4 to No. 1 among communication apps, according to data compiled by app analytics firm App Annie. Most of WhatsApp’s 450 million monthly users globally have come from outside the U.S., with a strong presence in Europe, the Middle East, South America and India. Part of the reason Facebook bought WhatsApp was to gain a stronger foothold in emerging markets, where it wants to grow.

Much of the download activity in the U.S. this week may have been driven by those trying to find out exactly why Facebook paid such a staggering sum. Whether that curiosity will lead to active use -- 70% of WhatsApp users access the app daily -- isn’t clear, but it has earned a 4.5 out of five-star rating in the App Store, based on more than 5,500 ratings.

On the Android side, WhatsApp has seen only a modest bump. Its U.S. ranking in the Google PlayStore has risen only two spots from No. 19 on Tuesday to No. 17 on Friday. The smaller uptick may in part reflect Google Play already driving the vast majority of WhatsApp’s growth. From January 2012 to December 2013, 84% of its downloads globally have come on Android compared to 16% from iOS.

That, in turn, reflects Android’s dominance as a smartphone platform worldwide, and especially in emerging markets where lower-cost Android handsets are more prevalent than iPhones.

Still, App Annie noted in a blog post that the Facebook acquisition triggered a major ranking a boost not only in the U.S. but in Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea, where homegrown players like WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk already have a major presence. 

It wasn’t as if WhatsApp was slowing down at the end of 2013. In the last four months of 2013, combined downloads across both Android and iOS increased fivefold as WhatsApp added 100 million users globally in that period, according to the analytics firm. Facebook is counting on that kind of growth until WhatsApp hits 1 billion users.


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