Paying five bucks to have WhatsApp installed on your smartphone

The seemingly perpetual sound resonates from its loop. It’s not an unfamiliar sound. I’ve been hearing this sound each time I walk past those busy streets and it was not too often that I’d bring myself to pay attention. This time it was different, this time it wasn’t the same sound.

It was the kind of voice you’d to hear when local stores were advertising a product, some guy they’d hired to speak into a bullhorn. At times, that meant the shop owners were calling out on any offers that would pique the interest of a passer-by. This was not the case anymore. Street vendors now had bullhorns of their own, the ones they’d set to play a recording on endless loop.

And this particular recording had caught my interest. “WhatsApp installation here, WhatsApp installation here!” the recording said, with a sound that would make even Jan Koum proud. The recorded voice pumped through the bullhorn. It used to call out for instant screen guards; it was now calling for WhatsApp installations.

These bullhorns stand at almost every street corner, just so you don’t forget. This one stand I stopped by had a setup you’d usually find in store, feature phones arranged close to a handful of (I’m guessing) Chinese Galaxy clones, and one Galaxy SIII mini. It felt kind of having a genius bar out in the open, right in the middle of the street.

When I stopped by, the guy wasn’t even there. Other vendors beside his stand acknowledged his absence.

WhatsApp’s popularity is no question in developing countries. There are other messaging apps that rival the service like Tencent’s Wechat but they haven’t quite reached the scale of the Facebook owned WhatsApp. Much of it has to do with how easy it is to use. It doesn’t quite take a lot to get used to and that’s why so many people have easily embraced it.

Jan Koum, WhatsApp CEO, announced a little while ago that WhatsApp had reached 800 million monthly active users. That’s 800 million people launching the app and firing up a message — “What’s crackin my dude?”

It has slightly morphed into an iMessage equivalent sans SMS that runs on possibly any other phone. That is by far its biggest asset, from the aging Nokia Symbian to the largest mobile platform by market share, Android. For one dollar you get a year’s worth of service, ad free. And with its skyrocketing popularity industry analysts expect WhatsApp to reach 1 billion users by the end of the year.

It seems WhatsApp is also getting a boost from the ubiquity of Android phones. When a person enters a store with smartphones on sale, the first question they ask is if the phone they are buying can run WhatsApp. If not, they can possibly cancel the purchase altogether.

A smartphone’s ability to run WhatsApp is huge selling point, but keeping up with updates is usually a pain point especially with costly data and slow connections. A majority of people here still rely on 2G and 3G networks, albeit WiFi hotspots and home broadband solutions are only becoming popular. As a result, these self employed Geniuses are there to help install the app by sideloading it — for five dollars.

I asked the one lady selling her clothing line right next to the “genius bar” where the guy was, she quickly asked if she could be of any assistance. I mentioned to her that I needed to take a photo for this post, and she insisted that it was okay.

Just three shots into it the Genius finally showed up. He immediately asked if he could help me. “I want to take a couple of photos so I can write about this.” He replies, “No you won’t”

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