Trying out WhatsApp’s voice calling feature: slightly laggy and has bugs, but can change things in a big way

“WhatsApp’s voice call feature looks set to be a big game changer”

It doesn’t take an analyst to figure out that instant messaging apps have taken the wind out of SMS messaging’s sail, much to the chagrin of telecom operators. And with its world-conquering user base, WhatsApp has to be one of the biggest culprits in the resulting loss of revenue. And now, WhatsApp looks set to do the same to voice calling over cellular networks too. The voice calling feature of WhatApp has been expected since a while now, and shown its face in leaks. We got to taste it on Android today, and can confirm it works pretty well, at least over Wi-Fi and 3G. There’s just a small hint of lag. The feature seems to be in closed beta for now, and gets activated for a user when someone who has it currently working makes a voice call to them over WhatsApp, and the recipient accepts the incoming call.

Whatsapp-voice-001 Whatsapp-voice-002 Whatsapp-voice-003

The interface is quite neat, and resembles the usual chat interface, except that there’s a new tab on top for calls. As with chat, hitting the call button on top displays a list of contacts that have the most recent version of the app (v2.11.528 in our case) installed, and can potentially take WhatsApp calls. When you make an outgoing call by tapping the call button, you see a full-screen profile image of the contact, while the incoming call window is also pretty similar. Incoming calls can even be declined with a preset or a custom message, and doing this sends a text message via WhatsApp.

It could be early days for the voice calling feature yet, and WhatsApp is yet to make it available officially. One bug we can see in the interface already is that there’s no way to make a cellular call to a contact (something you could do earlier), since the call button just tries to make a voice call over WhatsApp and generates an error if that contact doesn’t have the latest version installed. It could be that the guys at WhatsApp want to restrict users to just making calls via the app and not cellular networks, but that’s a functionality that would definitely be preferred again. By the way, we also tried calling a buddy who’s using WhatsApp on BlackBerry OS 10, and while he did see the incoming call and accepted it, there was no voice transmission.

We’ll keep you apprised of the progress and let you know when the voice calling feature on WhatsApp becomes available publically. As of now, all we can hope that they iron out any bugs (like the one we mentioned) and roll out the much-awaited feature as soon as possible. If voice calling over WhatsApp can work well, especially on slow data networks, it has the potential to be a game changer. And the reason for that is simple – WhatsApp may not be the first instant messenger to offer voice calling, but once the feature is available officially, you can be almost sure that the other guy has it too.

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