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WhatsApp Pushes Past 400 Million Monthly Users

WhatsApp -- the little messaging system that could -- announced today that it had surpassed a major user base milestone, topping 400 million monthly users, and active ones at that.

That number is double what WhatsApp reported in April, establishing WhatsApp as not just one of the most rapidly growing services on the Internet, but also as a viable competitor to text messaging services as we know them. To put that user base into perspective, the company notes that it is now processing 32 billion received messages and 500 billion photos every day. One survey notes that WhatsApp's weekly usage rate -- at 44 percent of all smartphone users polled -- now outpaces usage of Facebook's messaging system, at just 35 percent.

WhatsApp, like many similar services, uses the Internet to let users send and receive messages (from text to photos to video), taking the standard phone carriers' SMS and MMS services out of the equation. Founded in 2009 by former Yahoo! employees, the service is now available on every major smartphone operating system and has near-universal compatibility across mobile handset hardware.

The company makes money by charging a pittance -- 99 cents per year with the first year totally free -- to users. With 400 million active users, well, you can do the math on how much the company could ultimately be pulling in… and WhatsApp says it has barely even started to think about how to monetize the company.

What's next for WhatsApp will depend largely on how its competitors react and whether they prosper. There are plenty of them (Wikipedia lists 17 that are compatible with Android alone), and nearly all are as heavily focused on accumulating new users as WhatsApp is. Last month, Snapchat, which focuses on short-term messages that vanish after a few seconds, turned down a reported $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook. Also last month, Japanese competitor Line announced that its similar app had surpassed 300 million registered users. Alternative messaging systems are booming -- even Instagram has added a direct messaging system to its popular photo-sharing service -- but in the end, it's likely that the market will consolidate into a small pool of viable players.

The way things are going, it’s likely WhatsApp is going to be one of the more permanent fixtures in the market. Unless, of course, people tire of messaging altogether they way they did with voice calls.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld. ]

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