Why Was the U.S. So Slow to Adopt WhatsApp When Everybody Else Uses it?

The most perplexing thing about WhatsApp is that it is not widely used in the country where it was invented. WhatsApp is an American product invented in San Jose, California, by two American engineers , yet it has never really caught on in the United States.

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WhatsApp is reportedly the most popular messaging solution in a number of countries, including India, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain. Indian newspapers and websites are full of news stories about WhatsApp, including accounts of how Bollywood movie stars use it. Yet the American media did not acknowledge WhatsApp’s existence until Facebook spent $19 billion to buy the company that produced it last year.

Many Americans were actually perplexed when legendary Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg opened his checkbook in order to get WhatsApp. They did not understand what he was buying or why, because they were completely unfamiliar with a product developed and owned by an American company.

Why Americans Don’t Do WhatsApp

Actually, there are several very good reasons why WhatsApp has little appeal in the United States or Canada. Some of them are apparent, and some of them are not. A few of the factors that deter Americans from trying WhatsApp include:

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  • Many Americans are highly invested in other social media and messaging technologies, including Reddit, LinkedIn, Facebook, Skype, and Twitter to name a few. People that are already heavy users of one social media are often simply too lazy to check out something new.

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  • Cellular phone service in much of the United States is very cheap because there are many competing companies. Americans pay little for data plans, so they are less likely to invest in free alternatives such as WhatsApp. In contrast, the phone market in countries like India and Mexico is controlled by a few large companies that charge much higher rates.
  • Many Americans use the Apple iPhone, which comes with a proprietary messaging system. To add WhatsApp to iPhone, you have to unlock it, and you cannot use some popular WhatsApp features on it. For example, you could not send video on WhatsApp through an iPhone until quite recently.
  • Americans are less offended by advertising than people in some countries. Part of WhatsApp’s appeal is its lack of advertising. Americans have gotten used to advertising on a wide variety of social media, while people in some other parts of the world have not.
  • Americans do not have to pay for each text message like some people do. Individuals in Spain have to pay 17 cents every time they send a text through the phone company’s system. Those charges can quickly add up. Not surprisingly, the free WhatsApp is used by 96% of Spanish texters.
  • It is even more expensive to text in some others. In Portugal, it can cost between 80 cents and a dollar just to send a text over some systems. Naturally, free messaging solutions attract a lot of attention in countries like Portugal. Before WhatsApp, only the rich could afford to send text messages in some countries. Now everybody can because it is so cheap.
  • WhatsApp is very popular with first-time smartphone users. In several countries, such as India, many people are using smartphones for the first time.

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  • Most Americans have access to a computer either at home or at work. Most people in nations such as India do not. They use their smartphone as a computer; Americans tend to use computers for a lot of tasks that many other people use smartphones for. Many Americans use computers to access social media and to send pictures and videos to friends for example. A large number of Americans still use email because they’ve used it all their lives.
  • People in India need a phone that they can use to send more than texts or voice messages, so they turn to WhatsApp. A lot of Americans do not; many Americans never access the Internet through their phone or even use its camera.
  • WhatsApp is also more compatible with some languages such as Portuguese than it is with America’s main language: English. The Portuguese and Spanish speaking peoples use a wide variety of special characters that are simply not found in English. These can be used in WhatsApp but not in some other popular messaging solutions, according to Quora poster Nardyello Co.
  • A lot of Americans and Canadians simply do not know what WhatsApp is. Since many Americans rarely travel outside of North America, they may have never even seen WhatsApp in action. They simply do not know that something like WhatsApp exists.

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  • Smartphone service is still not that good or reliable in much of North America. In the United States, cellphone service is often terrible outside of large urban areas. There might not be service whatsoever or just one company in a region. When you drive through the United States and Canada, it is still common for service to cut out in rural areas. Service can even be spotty in some suburbs. That makes it hard to use a web based solution such as WhatsApp.
  • Americans are not yet used to the idea of using their phone as a computer. They’ve been conditioned to think of the phone and the computer as two different devices and the Internet as something accessed through a computer, not a phone. Many Americans still do not even realize that their smartphone can also serve as a computer.

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  • Since Americans rarely travel outside their own country, they do not need a cross-platform messaging solution such as WhatsApp. One of WhatsApp’s most popular attributes is the ability to send messages between countries for free. Those without friends or relatives in foreign countries have little incentive to use it. Persons that do not travel widely do not need such an app.

Will Americans Ever Start Using WhatsApp?

Not surprisingly, a lot of people will wonder if Americans will ever adopt WhatsApp. The answer is probably not without a massive advertising campaign or a major push from one of the big tech companies such as Facebook or Apple. Since those companies have little incentive to promote a low-cost, advertisement-free solution from which they cannot make money, it will probably never happen.

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