WhatsApp 'taking over' SA mobile chat

WhatsApp dominates South Africa's instant chat landscape. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
WhatsApp dominates South Africa's instant chat landscape. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - South Africans are hooked on WhatsApp as the instant messaging chat application has taken a dominant market share in the country.

According to the South African Mobile Report prepared by Effective Measure, nearly WhatsApp has just short of 80% market share among South Africans.

BlackBerry's BBM is a distant second followed in a close scrap by Facebook's Messenger.

Other applications, including Google Talk, Skype and perhaps most notably Mxit, make up the rest.

The figures are startling to some as it is indicative of WhatsApp's exponential growth at capturing messaging as people migrate from feature phones to smart devices.

Mxit dominated the chat space in SA prior to the arrival of smartphones, but the Stellenbosch-based company has been racing to retain users.

Privacy issues

The latest versions of Mxit target smartphone users with the promise that the application uses relatively little data.

"The brand's extremely data-light chat functionality remains the biggest draw card, and the average daily time per user on the platform has increased from 95 to 105 minutes," the company said when it launched Mxit 7 in late 2013.

That may not be enough as WhatsApp nears default messaging application status and goes some way in justifying Facebook's purchase of the platform for $19bn.

WhatsApp has over 600 million users and is rapidly approaching Facebook's tally of around 1.3 billion.

"WhatsApp's growth potential in emerging markets is much higher that Facebook's because it is already integrated into feature phones and even semi feature phones, and is fast replacing SMS as the messaging option of choice," said Steven Ambrose, Strategy Worx CEO.

WhatsApp is the most popular chat application in SA. (Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24)

But questions remain around privacy issues as the two companies inevitably integrate.

In SA, the Personal Protection of Information Act (Popi) obliges companies to take extra with personal data, but if a company is based outside SA, the law won't apply.

A US court decision recently forced Microsoft to hand over e-mails of a US citizen stored on a server in Ireland. As a result of sensitivity around personal information, regions have moved to require locally-based data servers.

"Europe has already enacted legislation requiring European businesses to store their data in Europe, a decision that is expected to cost US cloud companies up to $45bn. The concerns highlighted by European Governments apply equally to all jurisdictions including South Africa," JJ Milner, founder and chief cloud architect at Global Micro told Fin24.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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