TikTok’s sister app LetsChat is expected to compete with WhatsApp and Telegram, but users believe the data-saving app isn’t a worthy challenger.

When Yusuf Balogun first downloaded LetsChat after seeing its ads in online comedy skits, he had high expectations of the messaging app, which promises exciting features such as free voice and video calls, zero pop-up ads, and in-app games. But after a few days of using the app, he uninstalled it. “Though it was an interesting experience because it doesn’t consume data like other apps, I’m not sold on it,” he told TechCabal over a call.

Launched in 2021 by Beijing-based tech firm and TikTok owner ByteDance, LetsChat was designed for young African users to compete with bigger rivals WhatsApp and Telegram. LetsChat’s entry into the African market has all the makings of a company looking not to keep up with the existing competition but to crush it. To pull this off, the Chinese app engaged influencers—including comedians—to spread its word. A check on Google PlayStore shows that the number of its downloads has exceeded five million.

A worthy opponent?

Depending on who you ask, young Africans want social content applications such as chat and video. WhatsApp is easily the most popular messaging app on the continent because of its features: voice and video-call functionality, group functions, stickers, and status updates. 

I used LetsChat for two days and consider it a direct challenger to WhatsApp, and it comes with more offerings. For example, the ‘”People nearby” feature allows you to connect with users in your present location, while “Lifie” captures real-time moments with a dual camera. From my experience, making voice and video calls on LetsChat—the selling point of the app—didn’t require data, but you’d need to turn on your data to stay connected. The calls weren’t seamless, but not bad for a two-year-old app.

Like Yusuf, users who spoke to TechCabal confirmed that LetsChat has cool features but they stopped using the app for different reasons—chief of which were technical glitches. “My experience using the app was below average because of the jamming of calls and unrecognised numbers calling you. I think they need to work on the features. Sometimes when you make a call, it won’t show whether it’s ringing. They still have a long way to go,” Omojolade Michael, who used LetsChat for a few days, said.

Susan, who has been using LetsChat since the beginning of the year, says she only uses it whenever she takes a break from WhatsApp. “My major problem with the app is that it keeps suggesting complete strangers to connect with. At least on WhatsApp, I have control over my contacts,” she said.

For some, like Adam Opeloyeru, a digital marketer, these features make LetsChat unique. “I like the Lifie feature. Also, I can call 30 friends at the same time and be able to talk to them without any extra charges. There are also games on the app, just like iMessage. You know iMessage is designed for iOS phones, but for LetsChat, you can play games with anyone with the app,” he told TechCabal.

Despite its appealing features, some see LetsChat facing an uphill struggle to retain users. “I won’t consider it a formidable competition to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Even if WhatsApp isn’t an option, I’d still settle for Messenger. It could get better with time, but at the moment, I don’t see it as a close competition. The stakes are way too high,” Yusuf said. 

However, Adam is quite optimistic about the app’s success if the makers return to the drawing board. “They just need to upgrade those features to meet the expectations of people, and they need to do more research beyond the reviews on Apple Store and meet the users to know the kind of features they want,” he said.

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Ganiu Oloruntade Reporter, TechCabal

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