In one of its biggest releases in recent times, Whatsapp, arguably India’s most popular messaging platform with 160 million monthly active users, has started rolling out video calling for all users. While video calling has become a common feature on most messaging apps, it is certain to get a bigger push now that the messaging app that has a billion monthly active users adds it as a native feature.
WhatsApp product lead Manpreet Singh said all their learnings from handling over 100 million daily connected voice calls over a diversity of networks will be brought into video calls. “We think this is really the right time to launch video calls. The state of smartphones have come a long way in the past few years. The speeds have improved, they are a lot more powerful, they have mature cameras and battery life has improved. At the same time the state of mobile networks has also improved and we see a lot of 4G deployment as well as Wi-Fi,” explains Singh, adding that combining all this they are confident that a lot of users will start using video calls.
Whatsapp was launched in 2009 as a messaging service that offers more features than regular text messages. In 2011, the company added group chats and in 2015 voice calling was enabled. Incidentally, Singh was first engineer hired to work on the voice calling feature.
“Just like everything else in Whatsapp we want to ensure that video calls will also be fast and reliable. The quality of the video adjusts to the kind of connection you have. We will try to continue the call as much as possible without interrupting,” says Singh, underlining that simplicity is the key and anyone can use this feature too like others on the platform. “There is a whole diversity of connection speeds, even within networks. We are working to expand that range.”
Like other chat exchanges on Whatsapp, video calls will also be end-to-end encrypted from Day One. The new feature will be rolled out to all users starting Tuesday. Singh says this is just the beginning and Whatsapp will listen to user feedback and improve the video calling as it goes. The feature will be compatible with all smartphones from Android 4.1 onwards.
All the features they add, Singh says, are based on user feedback. “Most of our roadmap is based on what users want.” Whatsapp has been able to leverage Facebook’s infrastructure for voice calls and will be doing the same for video calls. Facebook acquired Whatsapp for $19 billion in 2014.
Singh says the company has already announced that it will look at commercial messaging to monetise and some experimentation is already happening on that front.