Facebook's announcement to acquire WhatsApp and the latter's just announced plans to add voice calling should serve notice to Google and Microsoft -- yes, Microsoft -- that the war for the one to five billion connected world users is kicking into high gear. Facebook appears to be paying a lot for WhatsApp, but there's plenty of upside and incentives to make it work.
A lot has been made over the $16 billion to $19 billion accounting price for WhatsApp, but the numbers need to be placed in perspective. Facebook is providing $4 billion in cash -- a sweet payday, regardless of the stock -- along with $12 billion of Facebook shares and another $3 billion in "golden handcuffs" of stock vesting over four years to keep WhatsApp staff around to continue to build the business.
Facebook closed 2013 with cash and securities of nearly $11.5 billion. Interest rates are at an all-time low, so $4 billion in cash to WhatsApp is significant, but not crazy. One can also argue the 8 percent stock of Facebook's market cap represents a significant but not "here's the half the company" offer.
As for the total amount of the deal being out of whack with the rest of the world, the value of WhatsApp has to be placed into the context of Twitter's market cap, the purchase price for Skype, and Facebook's current value. If Facebook's stock value goes down over the next four years, so will WhatsApp's relative value.
Facebook's big message over the past year has been developing -- and growing -- markets. It currently has over a billion users and adds roughly 450 million more users with WhatsApp -- with another million plus new registered users per day through WhatsApp. A large part of Internet.org, a multi-corporate partnership pushing more connectivity into developing markets, is Facebook working with Ericsson and Samsung.
At Mobile World Congress this week, WhatsApp announced it plans to add voice by the second quarter as part of its larger vision to reach a billion users. With Facebook's backing and its current momentum, WhatsApp may end up being a threat to Skype in a way no other company has managed in over a decade of battles.
Speaking of Microsoft, Nokia's rollout of the Nokia X low-cost Android-based smartphone line with a bundle of Microsoft services including OneDrive and Skype is a fascinating mashup. Nokia low-cost hardware and marketing in combination with Microsoft cloud-based services provides Microsoft with its potential on-ramp to the developing world. One has to wonder if Microsoft could figure out a way to translate the XBox experience (and profitability) to the developing world.
In comparison, Google looks to be the odd company out. Certainly Android has a presence on the newer low-cost Nokia phones along with low-cost offerings from other manufacturers, but the Chromebook concept considers to struggle in relationship to the growth of tablets. Google will also be a brand on low-cost devices through Android and its other services, but Facebook and Microsoft appear to be jockeying for more and "face first" presence -- and ultimately more profits -- from developing markets.
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