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March 19, 2013

No More Free Ride: WhatsApp Transitioning iOS Users to Subscription Pricing Model

WhatsApp, a cross-platform messaging app available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, will be rolling out subscription plans for new iOS users.

Instead of charging the one-time 99-cent download fee, customers who download WhatsApp onto their iPhones or iPads will pay a subscription fee of about $1 yearly, according to WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum. The first year of service will most likely be free of charge.

The company hasn’t provided a date for the change, but the subscription model will give iOS users the same pricing model as users on other platforms. WhatsApp, according to TechCrunch, sends 17 billion messages daily and has 100 million users just on Android devices.

WhatsApp sticks to its original mobile messaging mission, but the company is feeling pressure from other messaging apps that provide multiple services. Apps that provide free voice calls, gaming or virtual currency in addition to messaging have started to invade the WhatsApp ecosystem. For instance, the free messaging app Line just passed 100 million worldwide users.

Koum doesn’t see his company stealing revenue from telecoms. He argues that pricing and usage are based on data and that using WhatsApp is a natural evolution from traditional SMS.

Some analysts have speculated that Facebook may want to buy WhatsApp, but Koum had nothing to say about the rumors. “A lot of companies in Silicon Valley talk about exit strategies. The way we look at it, is it’s like entering a marriage and talking about divorce,” Koum explained.

“We just don’t have one. We don’t have one because we don’t plan or want to think about it. We want to focus on good products.”

WhatsApp has no plans for other big changes. The platform will not be offering gaming or live video streaming, and it won’t be moving to desktop.

“We feel strongly that the world is moving to mobile and we want to be mobile-only,” said Koum. “Your phone is with you all the time, and desktop is to many becoming a secondary experience.”

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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