Yes, it’s a very (very!) strange name for an app. Based on all the recent controversy with apps being accepted or denied in Apple’s App Store, I’m seriously surprised that WhatsApp was approved. After all, it bypasses the iPhone’s sms app completely. You could, conceivably, get rid of your text messaging plan altogether, and just use WhatsApp.

So what exactly is WhatsApp? The short version – it’s the iPhone’s answer to Blackberry Messenger. You can send messages to, and receive messages from all your contacts who also have WhatsApp installed on their iPhones. It’s really very clever, and works seamlessly with your contacts. If five of your contacts already have WhatsApp, when you install it, they will automatically show up in your favorites on WhatsApp.

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Did I mention that it pushes status notifications instantly? That means that not only is your “chat” instant, and a perfect imitation of sms messaging, you can get real time status updates for your WhatsApp contacts.

Did you ever wonder why someone hasn’t replied to your text? Just check his status in WhatsApp to see why. (This does, of course, assume that your contacts remember to set their status!)

Of course, if you don’t want everyone to see your status, that is also an option. The iPhone adopts that concept of Synergy with WhatsApp in that it can automatically update your contacts once they are linked IMG_0177within WhatsApp. It’s a beautiful thing.

While you don’t have to automatically have your WhatsApp contacts added to your Favorites, there is really no compelling reason not to do so. Besides, it’s really a kick to see your contacts just appear there one after another as they install WhatsApp!

The only setting that I’m not crazy about is the Facebook integration for your status. It seems overkill (at least to me) to broadcast one or two word status changes. I did have to check it out, and after getting an absurd number of dumb comments on my “availability,” I disconnected from Facebook. (Disconnecting from Facebook is not a bad proposition in general now that I think about it!)IMG_0179

There are a variety of pre-set status defaults. As you can see, you can delete, add, or edit them as you see fit. I don’t need “At work” and “At school” (since they’re the same for me), so I changed the former to “Podcasting – shhhhhh!”

IMG_0181The chat itself has the look and feel of sending a text message. Again, I am really surprised that Apple approved this app as it certainly duplicates a feature of the iPhone. It is a little nicer though, because you can set the background. As with the status messages, they supplied a few basic backgrounds, or you can choose something from your camera roll. or photo library.

There is both an audible tone and a vibrate to alert you to incoming messages. The tones are different if you are in the app and if your iPhone is asleep (where it sounds a lot like AIM).

Another feature that I thought was pretty neat is the addition of a contact photo to the chat list (as well as a tiny picture within a chat) if there is one attached to the contact.

IMG_0178IMG_0180Somehow I picked up a photo of Michael Manna during a Google contact sync, and now it shows up inside WhatsApp.

The Favorites view shows you status messages for your contacts who have bothered to set one.

While you can currently use WhatsApp only to chat between iPhone users, you can initiate a “regular” SMS, phone call, or email to anyone in your contacts list from within WhatsApp. I also noticed the first contact in my WhatsApp favorites is not an iPhone user at all. Rather he is a renegade Blackberry user with the Blackberry WhatsApp version! You can see this Blackberry user’s status, and send him a traditional sms, just as though he were on an iPhone. Hopefully, there will be an update to WhatsApp in the near future that allows iPhone and Blackberry users to chat together, despite separate platforms.

As it turns out, WhatsApp will even connect users in different countries (can’t do that without spending a fortune on sms!). Last night I connected with a friend in Guam, and this morning saw a friend in the UK pop up on my WhatsApp favorites.

Hurry to the App Store and get WhatsApp now while it’s FREE. If I’m not already in your contacts, drop me a note – let’s chat!