Early this week, users on Reddit and other forums began to report that they were seeing hints that popular instant messaging client WhatsApp was integrating voice calling as a beta feature. Mashableconfirmed late yesterday with a spokesperson that the feature was being tested with a "small group of Android users."
If you're not one of the 700 million worldwide users of WhatsApp, the program is an alternative to sending expensive SMS text messages. It's considered comparable to programs like Skype, Google's Hangouts, Viper, and Tango. In China, according to the Fuse Joplin, WhatsApp is directly competing with WeChat.
So why should you care that WhatsApp is getting voice chat? Skype is already a household name, after all, at least in the U.S.
First of all, internet voice calling makes sense from a data perspective, according to Beta News.
"Skype, for example, uses 6 to 20 kbps or around 150KB per minute for a voice call. The amount a user would have to pay for this much data is a lot less than a voice call tariff. In India, for instance, that much data usage with standard internet data plans of say $2-4 per GB will provide users with over 6,820 minutes, something which would otherwise cost a user Rs 6,820 (more than $100) over a typical voice call."
So while this feature has been available in Skype, Hangouts, and Viper, none of these programs have anything like the customer base that WhatsApp has, according to Beta News. The company behind WhatsApp reported last month that its users share more than 30 billion messages daily. Consider that Beta News reports that only 20 billion SMS messages are sent each day globally, and you begin to see what a big deal this is.
When you start to look at users outside of the U.S., the number of WhatsApp users becomes even more impressive, Beta News tells us.
"In India alone there are around 70 million monthly active WhatsApp users. It's a huge number considering that only 150-200 million users sport a smartphone in that country."
So essentially, what may be happening is one of the biggest messaging apps in the world integrating voice calling for its users, allowing people where voice minutes are normally sold at a premium to be able to use their phones at a fraction of the cost.
When will you be able to access voice calling on WhatsApp? No one's quite sure yet. Times of India suggests that the feature may be invite only for a time. Afterall, WhatsApp still hasn't officially confirmed the feature.
Have you seen voice calling options on WhatsApp? Let us know!
[Image from PC Mag]