Recently the news on WhatsApp being bought by Facebook is all over the place, it seems to be a big deal. As a user of WhatsApp for about 2 years or so, I went ahead and posted about “how shocking” I was when I learnt that the messaging “giant” had been bought by the SNS “giant”.
However, when I really think back on WhatsApp and its exact features, something else came to my mind. It is the messaging application that I have been using since about primary 6 back in China – Tencent QQ. And surprisingly, or rather not, I realized that it is technically much more older than WhatsApp but with all the functions that WhatsApp provides.
QQ has all the basic chat functions, it also has a group chat function(QQ群) since 2000, which supports up to 500 users in the group, and within the group, you can send text, voice messages, pictures or even files to all the members. It appears that QQ group would be older and more capable than WhatsApp in terms of group chat functions.
In the beginning, QQ only runs on computers. However, that was the era when phones did not have coloured screen. By the time Nokia phones with its Symbian OS became popular in China, QQ has been able to run on Symbian OS. And when iOS and Android came out, respective QQ apps were also developed by Tencent to run on these platforms. So QQ also beats Whatsapp in terms of cross-platform compatibility.
So what is the exact reason that causes Whatsapp to be much more well-known(outside China) than QQ? Why people(outside China) did not use QQ before WhatsApp came out? I tried to come up with a few possible reasons:
Possible reason 1: Tencent’s Marketing strategy. We can safely assume that the Chinese market by itself is big enough for Tencent and it would not want to devote manpower and resources to market it outside China. (We can see that Tencent is now putting efforts to market its WeChat outside China and it is largely successful)
Possible reason 2: General impression and stereotypes on Chinese products. This could also be related to the general stereotypes that people have about Chinese products, i.e. unreliable, potentially linked to communist ideas. So even if Tencent did try to promote QQ outside China, it could have failed because people just do not trust Chinese products.
Possible reason 3: The time factor. Maybe QQ was just not developed too early, not at the correct time to be successful. This happened to Microsoft when it tried to sell the idea of tablet way back before iPad. It could be that the need for instant messaging on mobile devices just came about in recent years. WhatsApp seized this this opportunity and cater to people’s need at the correct time.
Possible reason 4: WhatsApp is more focused and links to phone number: WhatsApp is only a messaging app, it does not come with other functions like QQ games, QQ pet or QQ show(a virtual avatar that you can modify like a Barbie doll). WhatsApp is also linked directly to the phone number so that it can get all the phone contacts on WhatsApp and act as a replacement for SMS for people with internet connection. This makes WhatsApp more professional as a messaging app. People can just enjoy messaging like sending normal SMS without distractions. After all, we are comparing them as messaging applications.
Possible reason 5: Ads. Ads is one significant feature of QQ, it appears almost everywhere unless you pay some kind of membership fee. This is arguably the preferred method of many apps nowadays, however, for WhatsApp , we see no ads at all and instead of paying the yearly subscription fee, somehow I can use it for free for over a year with my account automatically renewed.
That is all that I could come up with at this moment. And I am not sure if they are sufficient to provide an explanation. Anyway, back to WhatsApp and Facebook time!
Add-on: On the topic of growth and expanding market internationally, here is a relevant answer from Quora.