Why iMessage will never beat WhatsApp

Most of us have experienced some form of ‘platform shut out’ – when you want to share something with a friend but can’t because they use a different device from you and the app isn’t available on that device. This problem is particularly acute when it comes to messenger apps, but is common in many apps with sharing or collaboration functionality.

WhatsApp and iMessage illustrate the two approaches that native applications developers take. iMessage works really great on one platform, and because it’s only on one platform they have the luxury of focus and fewer resources, so they can sweat the details and deliver a well-crafted product. WhatsApp take a different approach. They make sure they are everywhere they can be, developing for multiple platforms with the knowledge that a network effect that’s not limited by the edges of a single platform can propel their app from obscurity into the mainstream.

Betting on a single platform is a risky business. Of course, those of us who’ve been around for a while know that dominant players do in fact come and go with alarming speed. Yahoo! used to be my default search engine. Before that it was Alta Vista. MySpace was Facebook before Facebook was. And none of this happened all that long ago. So in technology lifecycle terms, no one is too big to fail.

For these two reasons I think multiplatform apps like WhatsApp will always beat single platform apps like iMessage in the long run.

So what’s a developer to do? Go with the existing numbers and place all bets on the current dominant player? Or back the new kids on the block as and when they emerge?

It takes a lot of time and effort to build an app for a single platform, let alone multiple platforms. Taking your application and porting it to another platform involves not only working around the differences of the APIs, but also ensuring that the app conforms to the UX principles of the platform.

Its little surprise that many developers bet on a single platform. So what to do? Mike Lee, a speaker from the UK’s first Native App Focused event, had a word of advice: “I do things on Apple because I know Apple best, because I use Apple myself, because I like Apple. If by some miracle something I build on Apple develops demand on another platform, I’ll find people who feel the same way about their platform as I do about mine, and seek their help.”

Perhaps this is an answer: Partner with developers from other platforms.

Platform is culture, and the challenge, as always, is to adapt yourself to every context and try not to force those contexts to adapt to you. Again, it’s vital to partner with people who are native in those contexts.

Meeting with developers from other platforms could be a great way to ensure your app reaches as many people as possible. Understanding just enough about the other platform to make informed decisions, but then partnering or outsourcing to other companies that share your passion for quality apps but not your choice of preferred platform. When it comes to building successful apps; emulating WhatsApp is far less risky than following the iMessage model. iMessage will never beat WhatsApp.

Published by thebeebs

Martin has been a web developer since 2000 and now work for Microsoft as a technical evangelist.