The justification for Facebook's $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp was based pretty much only on its potential for growth and, ultimately, the amount of money it can make from subscription fees.
Never mind that the app is free for the first year. Or that, by some estimates, as many at 40% of its current user base are using it for free, and there's no guarantee that they will want to pay when the year is up. The company is growing wildly and Facebook thinks its soon going to hit one billion users.
So why not, you know, try to help that growth along a little bit by reducing those fees even further?
A new update to WhatsApp for Android has a new feature that allows its existing users to pay the subscription fees for their friends, it was noticed by Android Police on Monday.
Judging from the screen shot, it looks like users have the option to pay either one year, at 99 cents, three years at $2.67 or five years at $3.71.
They can also pay by Google Wallet or via the Web.
The payment system is also apparently cross-platform, meaning that Android users are given the ability to pay for their friends' subscriptions on other mobile platforms besides Android, including Windows Phone, Blackberry, and iOS.
It is not known if this is just a feature for new users, who would have their first year free anyway, or if it also counts toward those who have already paid. If so, it is also unclear if those people will have their money refunded.
VatorNews has reached out to WhatsApp to get more information, but the company was unavailable for comment. We will update if we learn more.
Obviously WhatsApp needs to monetize for Facebook to justify its existence, and there are numerous ways it could do so. This move seems less about monetizing in the short run, though, given that the money that will be paid will either go to new users, who wouldn't have paid anyway, or to existing users who have already paid.
This actually feels like a long-term move, a way to get new users onto the site, and to keep the old ones on, to beef it up in the coming years. As little as $1 is, it could be the breaking point for some people.
This would fit in with the stated goals of both Facebook and WhatsApp: to build up the user base before thinking about how to make money off of the service.
There were other updates made to the Android app as well. The app also added new privacy setting, letting users make changes to their "last seen," profile photo, and status, allowing them to limit who can see each one.
The app also now has a camera shortcut, which allows for faster picture sending, as well as large video thumbnails in chat, as well the ability to share and save profile photo/group icons.
(Image source: techedon.com)