According to WhatsApp, they saw over 8 billion messages going out on the day of Diwali in India alone, and that’s a huge number. Now with video calling feature, WhatsApp has another use case, one that could boost its growth further. Sure, video calling has been around for sometime now with Skype being the top name that comes to mind. Then there’s Viber, Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime (iOS exclusive), and finally the recently launched Google Duo app.
But with WhatsApp, suddenly a lot more people have access to video calling, some who might not have even tried this before. WhatsApp’s video calling couldn’t be more fortuitously timed. India is seeing a data revolution of sorts with the entry of disruptor Reliance Jio and its promise of 4G VoLTe.
The result is that other telecos like Airtel and Vodafone are slashing data prices across the board in order to retain their customers. Airtel is also looking to expand into the optical fibre broadband with 100MBps speeds for home internet. Reliance’s Jio Fibre might just offer speeds of 1GBps in the future, which will again shakeup the market.
Suddenly people have access to cheaper data, which makes India the right market for WhatsApp’s new video calling feature. But it is far from perfect. For starters, the experience needs to be simple, and flawless. WhatsApp hasn’t created a separate tab for video calls, which would have highlighted the feature more and been better from a user interface experience. In Android, which is the dominant OS in India, there’s distinct video symbol next to a contact, like there is on iOS. You have to tap on the call button, and it gives the choice of video or voice. Hopefully that demarcation will take place soon on Android as well.
The other risk with video is that if the quality drops and the image is too blurry, you are likely to disconnect the call. Based on my own experience so far, WhatsApp’s video calls have a serious lag and blurry, especially on mobile networks. I’ve used this on 3G, while the other person was on 4G LTE and later WiFi. I’ve already got the ‘Poor connection video paused’ message once, which is not good news. The total data used in this video call was around 2.3 MB and it was a 2-minute session.
WhatsApp says it will adjust the video quality based on network quality, but there is a noticeable lag in conversations. With video calls, it is all about real-time, and if that doesn’t go smoothly, people won’t be coming back. Of course, WhatsApp will improve its own capacity to handle these calls in the coming days, but the first few experiences will be crucial for many who try it out.
WhatsApp is not yet listing how much of your data is used in just video calls. In iOS and Android, all call data is clubbed under one tab in the Data Usage section. A lot of Indian users will want to keep a tab on this. Pre-paid users, even post-paid ones in India have a limited data pack for their mobile connections, which is why usage matters.
For now, WhatsApp’s video calling is generating a lot of interest, which is not surprising given how popular the app is in India. But WhatsApp will need to seriously bump up the video calling experience it offers from the current one, if it wants to wipe out the competition.