Chances are that if you don’t already use WhatsApp, you’ve least heard of it. The beloved messaging app is the standard for texting in many parts of the world, but if you’re not familiar with it, you may feel left out.
Below is an introductory guide to WhatsApp. We’ll cover what it is, what features the app offers, and why it’s so popular.
What Is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp Messenger is a free instant messaging app available on both Android and iPhone. It allows you to send text messages to other users one-on-one or in groups. Importantly, WhatsApp chats go over the internet. This contrasts with standard SMS texting, which goes through your phone provider.
Inside chats, WhatsApp has all the features you’d expect from a modern messaging app, including the option to send photos, share your location, search and send GIFs, and similar. In addition to the core texting service, WhatsApp supports voice calls, video calling, and recorded voice messages.
WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by two former Yahoo! employees. In 2014, Facebook bought the app, and it has been under the Facebook umbrella (now called Meta) since then. The service has a huge user base; it reached more than two billion users worldwide in 2020.
How to Start Using WhatsApp
Open the app and agree to the terms, then you’ll need to walk through the simple signup process. After entering your phone number, you’ll get a text with a confirmation code. Enter that into WhatsApp, and you’re almost done.https://www.youtube.com/embed/y3EdIiJeTXk
Next, enter your name and set a profile photo. You’ll be asked to let WhatsApp access your contacts, which you should do for best results. Otherwise, you can’t easily search for people’s names in WhatsApp to start conversations. Then choose whether to allow access to your photos (for sending in chats) and you’re ready to go.
Basics of WhatsApp Chats
If you’ve used other messaging apps like Telegram, (Facebook) Messenger, Signal, or Viber, WhatsApp will seem familiar. To start chatting, tap the New button, which is at the top-right on iPhone and the bottom-right on Android. Search for one or more people you want to chat with, then enter your message and hit Send.2 Images
That’s the basic texting capability, but there’s more WhatsApp offers in its chats. For most of them, tap the Plus (iPhone) or paperclip (Android) icon next to the chat box to open a menu that lets you send pictures, your location, files, or a contact. The Stickers icon lets you send GIFs or fun stickers, while the Mic icon lets you record a voice message.
At the top, you’ll see a Camera icon to start a video call with this person/group, as well as a Phone icon to start an audio call. Tap the contact or group name to see info about them, search the chat, change its wallpaper, and adjust other options.3 Images
The Chats tab on the main screen contains all your existing chats, ordered by the most recent activity. Slide from right to left on one to Archive the chat if you no longer need it, or tap More to see a handful of options. By swiping from left to right, you’ll see Pin to keep the conversation at the top of the list.
What Else Can WhatsApp Do?
Many people use WhatsApp primarily for its messaging, but there are a few other functions too.
On the Status tab, you can add a temporary text or photo status to share with your contacts (or certain people you choose). You’ll also see any statuses your contacts have shared with you.2 Images
These statuses are a lot like Instagram Stories—they are only available for 24 hours, and your friends can reply once they view them. See our guide to statuses in WhatsApp to learn more.
If you use WhatsApp for audio calls often, the Calls tab makes it easy to check all your calls and any you’ve missed, similar to your phone’s dialer app.
Of course, Settings is full of useful options. Notably, the Account section contains options to make WhatsApp more private and secure, and Linked Devices lets you use WhatsApp Web to enjoy the service on your desktop or laptop. Keep in mind that WhatsApp doesn’t work without a phone, so your computer must be connected to your mobile device to use WhatsApp Web.2 Images
Why Is WhatsApp So Popular?
If you live in the United States, you might not know many people who use WhatsApp. The service is much more popular in other regions of the world, serving as the default means of communication in India, Latin America, parts of Europe, and more. In contrast, the US is one of the few countries that still regularly uses “old-school” SMS text messaging.
There are a few reasons why WhatsApp is much more used than SMS worldwide.
WhatApp’s Low Cost
Primarily, WhatsApp rose to ubiquitous status in many regions due to its low cost of use. At the time it was becoming popular, phone providers in many countries charged per text message, or placed limits on how many you could send. Since all you need to use WhatsApp is an internet connection, it was a more attractive alternative to SMS.
However, in the US, most mobile providers have offered unlimited SMS text messages as a standard feature for some time. Users there thus didn’t have as much need for an alternative like WhatsApp—they didn’t see a reason to download another app to do what they were already doing.
Cross-Device Support and Simplicity
In the US, where many use an iPhone, iMessage is the default messenger for a lot of people—it automatically kicks in when you text someone who also has an iPhone. But since Android is much more widely used worldwide, iMessage isn’t as ubiquitous outside the US.https://www.youtube.com/embed/uUqHX4uYs_k
Many developing regions of the world were also starting to see large-scale smartphone adoption, along with 3G connections, when WhatsApp was new. In many ways, WhatsApp was in the right place at the right time to become as popular as it has.
Beyond its initial boom, WhatsApp has remained at the top due to its simplicity and flexibility. All you need to message someone is their phone number, so you don’t need to worry about connecting on Facebook or using an Apple device. Having texting, calling, and photo sharing all in one place—without any ads—is attractive.
Additionally, SMS (and MMS, used for sending multimedia messages) is outdated. SMS is still limited to 160 characters per text, and MMS has strict file size caps that are annoying for modern videos and images. WhatsApp is a modern messaging method that doesn’t feel stuck in 2003.
WhatsApp Is End-to-End Encrypted
An overview of WhatsApp wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that it’s end-to-end encrypted. This means that messages you send with the service are only readable by the intended recipient.