Social Media

Zoho pulls a surprise with its Arattai alternative to WhatsApp

R. Dinakaran | Updated on January 13, 2021 Published on January 12, 2021

Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu’s tweet about it was enough to have droves of people downloading the app.

Even as cheery New Year greetings messages flew over WhatsApp, along came the chat app’s privacy policy ‘update’ to spoil the party. Shocked to learn their conversations were no longer private and Facebook would have access to whatever they did on WhatsApp, alarmed users began migrating to other apps, especially Telegram and Signal.

But even as the debate was hotting up on which of the two apps was a better alternative, along came Indian software company Zoho’s surprise new offering Arattai (meaning chat in Tamil).

Though a formal launch is yet to happen, Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu’s tweet about it was enough to have droves of people downloading the app.

Has Arattai the potential to take on biggies WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal? The other homegrown app – Hike, promoted by Kavin Mittal and backed by Tencent and Foxconn among others – is shutting down according to a tweet by its founder. And Patanjali’s much-hyped Khimbo is nowhere to be seen.

The early users seem happy. K Srinivasamurthy, a Chennai-based publisher, said he learnt about Arattai from Vembu’s tweet. “I went to the Zoho site and checked it out. And learnt the server was in Chennai itself. So I thought why not make the switch,” he says.

Murthy says he has found the app easy to use and many of his friends are on it. “I have been messaging them, but haven’t tried the call function yet,” he says.

 

Bells and Whistles

Arattai has all the basic bells and whistles of WhatsApp including groups, calls, group calls and video chats. Unlike Telegram, which has a slightly different user interface, the UI of Arattai is similar to WhatsApp, which may make it easy for Whatsapp users to switch to it.

One important plus point with Arattai is that the users’ phone numbers are hidden to other users in groups, unlike in WhatsApp where it is publicly visible and, therefore, a security risk. Another advantage when compared to WhatsApp is that it can accommodate more users in a group, 500 now, but may soon go to 1,000.

Interestingly, Arattai has not been formally launched. Apparently, it has been in the works for around a year, and was released to the Zoho staff in case they wanted an alternative to WhatsApp. But somehow, the news leaked.

In a tweet, Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu said: “Our Arattai team asked me to not talk about our instant messaging app yet, but since it is already being talked about.. I guess I can talk too.”

While Vembu’s tweet said it was a friends-and-family trial release, and a formal launch would be done in a few weeks, more details were shared to BusinessLine by Praval Singh, VP, Zoho corp.

He said Arattai plans to launch desktop versions and a web app. “They will function independently and will not require the app to be switched on and connected to the net on the phone,” added Singh.

He said some of the features that would be introduced during the launch in Q2 2021 were stories, sticker packs, a digital locker to store documents, live location sharing, cloud storage, games and scheduled messages.
"There's a team of 10 that's working on Arattai. It's the same team that works on our enterprise-grade business communication platform known as Zoho Cliq. The team is currently working remotely out of various locations in India," said Praval Singh.

Vembu, in his tweet, had said there was no end-to-end encryption as of now. “End-to-end encryption is being worked on and will be available in the formal launch.”

 

When BusinessLine tested the app, we found a few bugs in Arattai, like calls not getting connected. Syncing of contacts, too, took a long time, with the search bar constantly saying it is “Syncing”. But given that the app is yet to be launched formally, it may be wrong to call these bugs.

Meanwhile, there are already reports of people junking the new groups in Signal and Telegram and going back to WhatsApp. Many feel the WhatsApp-Facebook privacy link doesn’t matter as they are already in Facebook and Instagram (both owned by Facebook) sharing similar material and chats.

A techie who had moved to Telegram said he did it because of the features. “If Arattai is going to be just another WhatsApp, I won’t move. What’s the point if it's just another messaging app?” he said.

Kavin Bharti Mittal in his tweet had talked about the network effect of international apps being strong for Indian apps. Let's see how Arattai combats that.

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Published on January 12, 2021
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