Why Messenger will replace WhatsApp

(and how WhatsApp is still here to stay)

Today Facebook has announced that it will transform its Messenger app into a platform, and introduced Messenger Business. In doing so Facebook has indirectly shown us what their plans are for WhatsApp.

Messenger will become the mainstream, full-featured app

Until now Messenger and WhatsApp were basically equals. Both focused on simple, no-nonsense messaging. This changed with the recent updates to Messenger, introducing stickers, and announcing a payment feature.

This put Messenger ahead of WhatsApp in terms of features, and more in line with WhatsApp competitors WeChat and Line. And with Facebook opening up its API’s to other developers Messenger will start to evolve very rapidly.

So while Messenger will be competing on features:

WhatsApp will focus on simplicity, and market share in emerging markets

The mantra of the WhatsApp founders has always been:

No ads, no games, and no gimmicks

By keeping WhatsApp as basic and bare-bones as possible it can continue it’s path to absolute dominance, particularly in emerging markets.

If you look at the market share statistics, WhatsApp is the dominant chat app in countries like South Africa, Argentina and India:

Source: http://www.statista.com/statistics/291540/mobile-internet-user-whatsapp/

I’m making an educated guess that the popularity in these markets is precisely because of the ease-of-use, availability on feature-phones (like Nokia S40 phones), and low data usage.

What will happen to WhatsApp users in Western countries?

Facebook would obviously like all these people to switch to Messenger. But I don’t think Facebook will risk alienating their WhatsApp user base by forcing them over to Messenger.

WhatsApp users were already up in arms after the acquisition by Facebook, and a lot of people switched to different messaging apps (Telegram was the popular choice). However, after the initial shock of the acquisition by Facebook had worn off, most users returned to WhatsApp. Because in messaging apps, even more so than in real-estate, it’s all about location, location, location.

Users go where their friends are

And this is where Facebook is in a unique position. Facebook now has over 1.4 billion registered users. There is no other social network (or any other service for that matter) that even comes close to those numbers.

By offering those 1.4 billion users compelling features in the Messenger app, I’m sure Facebook will get a lot of those people to install and start using it. Once those users are hooked more and more conversations will move from WhatsApp to Messenger, organically.

Unless, of course, Facebook screws it up…

So far the strategy Facebook seems to have chosen looks well thought-out, and I think it has a lot of potential for success. There is however one key issue Facebook has to avoid at all costs: adding too many features.

And I think Facebook is balancing things pretty well. Most features they add have actual value. But this could easily take a turn for the worse. I’m curious to find out if Facebook will manage to stay on the tightrope, or fall off into the abyss…