WhatsApp is the dominant messaging platform in South Africa, and is often the first app to be downloaded on new smartphones.
This is despite a plethora of high-quality apps offering similar features, such as Telegram and Viber.
While these platforms have not been able to dethrone the popular Facebook-owned messaging app, a major player is now looking to provide stern competition for WhatsApp.
Google has launched an open beta program for its new messaging app, Google Messages, on Android.
The app, which was formerly known as Android Messages, is a simple-looking platform that provides all expected baseline features of a messaging app.
These include the ability to send images and videos, group chat functionality, indications that a user is typing, and business features.
It will also offer additional Google-related features in the future, such as Google Pay integration and Google Assistant functionality.
Transitioning from SMS
Google Messages is currently used for reading and sending standard SMS messages on Android devices, but Google is in the process of including Rich Communication Services (RCS) as part of its messaging service.
This will allow Google to transform it into a secure messaging app in the vein of WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram, which does not use SMS technology, but instead sends messages through Wi-Fi and data.
In South Africa, WhatsApp has become incredibly popular because messaging over Wi-Fi or mobile data is significantly cheaper than using SMSs, so until Google Messages transitions into an RCS form in South Africa, it is unlikely that many South Africans will ditch WhatsApp in favour of this app.
It should be noted, however, that mobile operators have previously stated they have no immediate plans to roll out RCS support on their networks.
If the transition does take place locally, it will be interesting to see if WhatsApp on Android faces a significant challenge from Google Messages, or whether users will ignore this new option – as was the case when Windows introduced its Edge browser.
The open beta allowed users to opt into the test – either via a direct link or through the Play Store. However, these options are no longer available, as Google has received as many beta testers as it wanted.
Those who wish to sign up to the open beta program can regularly check this link to see if it reopens for more testers.
At the time of writing, Google had not used its new open beta programme to test any new features.
Learn more about Google Messages below.