Google Rumored to Be Acquiring WhatsApp for $1B

Google would use the messaging app to help bolster its unified communications tools and services, according to reports.

Google is reportedly in negotiations to buy the popular cross-platform smartphone messaging app WhatsApp for as much as $1 billion, which would help Google bolster its unified communications capabilities for its global users.

The deal, which was initiated "four or five weeks ago," hasn't yet happened because WhatsApp "is 'playing hardball' and jockeying for a higher acquisition price, which currently is 'close to' $1 billion right now," according to a report from tech blog Digital Trends that quotes an "inside source."

Google already has a myriad of services it offers to users, such as Google Voice, Google Docs, Google Apps, Gmail, Google+ and many more, but a mobile messaging app would also be a good fit. And acquiring one without having to build it from scratch, as well as having the built-in popularity of WhatsApp, could be a boon for Google.

Asked by eWEEK for a comment about the report, Neeraj Arora, a spokesman for WhatsApp, wrote in an email, "We do not comment on rumors and speculation."

A spokesperson for Google told eWEEK almost the same thing. "Thanks for reaching out about this; however, we don't comment on rumor or speculation."

WhatsApp is a handy app that allows users to communicate with other WhatsApp users without having to pay for SMS messages under typical cellphone plans. Instead, WhatsApp works using a smartphone's data plan, rather than on a charge per text basis. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and allows users to communicate between all of those platforms. WhatsApp doesn't have ads, but has very nominal fees.

Apple iPhone users pay a one-time 99-cent fee to download and use the app, while users of other smartphones can use it for free for the first year. Additional years of service for all other types of smartphones are 99 cents per year, according to WhatsApp.

Google has been busy in the last year with several acquisitions.

In February, Google bought e-commerce services company Channel Intelligence for $125 million to help bolster its online sales capabilities through a process that lets consumers buy products directly through product pages on Websites. Channel Intelligence is an existing partner of the Google Shopping service, according to the company's Website.

In May 2012, Google made a huge acquisition and greatly expanded its efforts in the wireless space when it paid $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility, which makes mobile phones and provides other services. In August, Google began shaking up the new unit by announcing 4,000 layoffs and the sale of Motorola Mobility's set-top box division for more than $2 billion.

In December 2012, Google acquired shipping lockbox vendor BufferBox for a reported $17 million to help take on similar services from rival BufferBox is a Canadian startup that offers customers locked storage sites where they can pick up packages from online vendors instead of having the packages left on their porches by delivery workers. Amazon has a similar Amazon Lockers service as part of its online commerce platform, where consumers in a growing number of locations can have their Amazon purchases shipped to a secure Amazon Locker, where they can pick it up when it is convenient.

One recent Google acquisition, that of the Frommer's travel books line, recently made news again when Google sold it back to its founder in a fascinating about-face.

Google bought the line last September for travel content and then announced the end of the print books in March. Just two weeks later, and seven months after Google bought Frommer's for a reported $22 million, Google officials sold the renowned travel book line back to its founder, Arthur Frommer, who was apparently not happy to see the demise of the printed books.

The move added another big name to Google's brand stable, following the September 2011 purchase of Zagat, another well-known company that aggregates reviews on restaurants, nightspots, hotels and other attractions from more than 350,000 surveyors around the world. The acquisition of Zagat was a success story for Google after several well-publicized failed purchase attempts. Google unsuccessfully sought to buy local review powerhouse Yelp in 2009 and group coupon provider Groupon in 2010. After those deals died, Google went on to relaunch its local search product as Google Places, significantly improving the service with its own recommendation engine and reviews.