WhatsApp may be hugely popular but its forays into Asia, the world's biggest mobile market, have had mixed success, raising questions about whether it can sustain the explosive growth Facebook Inc's Mark Zuckerberg cited to justify its $19 billion price tag.
Data from app metric company App Annie, for example, shows that WhatsApp ranks as the top communications app in only three of 13 Asian countries tracked - Hong Kong, India and Singapore.
"WhatsApp has been a strong player in Asia, but in the past year has faced strong competition from LINE and WeChat," said Neha Dharia, India-based analyst for Ovum, a technology consultancy. "WhatsApp has not been displaced by these players, but has seen stiff competition in growing its market share."
Facebook said on Wednesday it would buy WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock, in a deal worth more than Facebook raised in its own IPO.
For sure, WhatsApp has been phenomenally successful. For many users it has replaced sending costly texts, or SMS messages. Since its launch in 2009 it has built an active monthly user base of 450 million users.
A survey by marketing and research company Jana found WhatsApp to be the most used messaging app in all the countries it surveyed - India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico - beating competitors by a huge margin. The reason: users most prize the basic functions it offers - ad-free chat and photo sharing.
WhatsApp subscribers sent 18 billion messages a day in January. The overall market is growing rapidly: According to Ovum, 27.4 trillion such messages were sent last year; this year that figure will be close to 69 trillion.
By hooking up, Facebook and WhatsApp may be able to take on those markets that have been elusive to Facebook so far. With Facebook blocked in China, and lagging Twitter Inc and Naver Corp's LINE in Japan, WhatsApp "is a potential avenue for Facebook" into those markets, said Vincent Stevens, a senior manager for telecoms consultancy Delta Partners.
Forrester, a consultancy, forecasts that China will have more than 500 million smartphones this year.
And in the fast growing smartphone market of India, says Neil Shah, research director of devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research, local users now account for almost 9 percent of total active WhatsApp users around the world - some 40 million of them.
But Facebook and WhatsApp face formidable foes. Where once messaging apps were simply about messaging, now