ET EXCLUSIVE – Google to Take on WhatsApp with Instant Messenger
Co to launch own IM app in India next year after losing out to Facebook in race to buy WhatsApp
After losing WhatsApp to Facebook in a multibillion dollar acquisition bid, Google is planning to launch its own mobile messaging app which the search giant is likely to test in India and other emerging markets.
Last month, Google sent top product manager Nikhyl Singhal to India to do a recce of the messaging app ecosystem in the country as the company looks to catch up on an opportunity it lost to others.
The Google messenger is in early stages of development and is likely to be launched in 2015, sources aware of the plans said.A Google spokesperson, however, declined to comment.
Google reportedly made an offer of over $10 billion (.`60,000 crore) to buy Whatsapp, the instant messaging app which was ultimately bought by Facebook for `1.2 lakh crore) in one $19 billion (.of the largest technology deals.
Singhal, who is a product management director for Hangouts, Photos, Google+ core & Platform, is also touring other countries in Asia Pacific to understand local ecosystems better.
Unlike other Google products, the messenger will not force users for a Google login. The company is also considering localising the product by adding Indian language support and voice-to-text messaging.
The messenger will also be free to use. WhatsApp, which will be its biggest com its biggest competitor, has a freemium model where it charges . 53 annually af` ter one year.
With the launch of its Android One initiative, which sought to bring together hardware vendors o sell affordable smartphones, ndia is increasingly becoming a esting ground for Google.
In an interview with ET last month, top Google executive Sun dar Pichai said the company wants to do more India specific launches because of the scale and scope of the market.
India is expected to become the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China by 2019.
For Google, the move comes a little late as other instant messengers like Viber, WeChat and Line have also created sizeable user bases.
“Google would agree that it missed social and missed social on mobile. But then Facebook had to buy WhatsApp and Instagram for the same reason,” said Benedict Evans, former mobile analyst and a partner at Andreessen Horowitz in an email to ET. India is one of the fastest-growing markets for instant messaging applications. Of the 600 million WhatsApp users, 65 million are in India.
Similarly, Line has over 18 million registered users, Viber is targeting 30 million users by the year end and homegrown messenger Hike claims over 35 million registered users. WeChat doesn’t share country specific data but globally, it has over 438 million monthly active users.