Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19B, but what is WhatsApp?

7:55 PM, Feb 20, 2014   |    comments
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Story written by Jefferson Graham, USA Today

(USA Today) LOS ANGELES - What's WhatsApp?

The messaging app is being snapped up by Facebook for at least $19 billion, so wondering just what it is a natural question.

The company, based in Mountain View, Calif, has a worldwide user base of 450 million, and is beloved - especially among international users - for the ability to send and receive free SMS and MMS text messages on smartphones, without ads.

The app itself is free to download and use for a year. After that, What's App charges 99 cents yearly.

NEWS: Facebook's $19B WhatsApp deal a tech biggie

"WhatsApp is the best app for me," says Arthur Toutin, a tourist from Chile. "You can talk with other people without being face to face."

FIRST TAKE: Silicon Valley becomes downright silly with WhatsApp deal

WhatsApp competes with a host of relatively new apps - Viber, which just got acquired for $900 million by Japanese media giant Rakuten - and Line, which is big in Asia and features little digital stickers that can be added to the conversations.

MORE: What else could you buy with $19B

The service describes itself as a "cross-platform mobile messaging app." It works on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia - and those phones can all message each other.

It uses the same Internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, so there is no cost to message.

In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.

On its blog, WhatsApp insisted that nothing would change with the Facebook acquisition.

"WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you're using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication."

"WhatsApp has done for messaging what Skype did for voice and video calls," said Jim Goetz, an investor with What'sApp backer Sequoia Capital, on the company blog.

Noting that many people in the U.S. aren't familiar with WhatsApp, he said, "there's no other home grown technology company that's so widely loved overseas and so under-appreciated at home."
Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter.

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