WhatsApp has announced video calling feature to its app, which will go live on Android, iOS and Windows devices over the next couple of days. WhatsApp video calls were part of the Android public beta app for those who had signed up, but it is now coming out of beta and ready for all users. WhatsApp has promised the feature will start rolling out by tonight, and all video-calls made on the app will be end-to-end encrypted just like messages and voice-calls.
For messaging apps video is the next big step, especially as connectivity and device specifications have improved in important markets like India. WhatsApp’s big announcement comes at a time when India is expected to see a big push in 4G LTE connectivity with players like Reliance Jio entering the space. Given its 1 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp’s video calling is a big deal. And in India, the company has over 160 million monthly active users.
For most families and even government agencies, WhatsApp has emerged as the go-to app for instant messaging. With video calling being added, a lot more people have access to this feature. Sure, video calling apps like Skype, Viber have supported video calls for some time now, but WhatsApp’s popularity and user base gives it an advantage.
So what is WhatsApp promising with the video calls? For starters, it says the quality will be optimised for networks in India. So WhatsApp will automatically figure out if your network connection is poor or a really good one, and adjust video quality according to this. It will also let users switch from front to back camera in the middle of a video call. Users can also send a text message to the person without disconnecting the video call itself. The video call feature will work across platforms for users.
The video call option will show in the Calls tab. You’ll see a video symbol, next to the regular phone call symbol. Just tap on that to make a video call; do note your friend will need to be on the upgraded version of the app with the video calling feature for them to receive the call. Also, you can’t make video calls on groups.
And what are other apps offering? We take a quick look at some of the other options in the market which are available on both iOS and Android.
Skype has been one of the most popular video-calling apps for some time now. The app is available for PC, Mac, Android, iOS, etc. Skype requires a Microsoft Outlook account or phone number for you to sign-in. You can also use your old Skype id as well to log-in. With Skype, you can make video calls, leave video messages and send text messages as well.
On Skype, you can see which of your friends are online and then make a call. Skype also lets you make calls to landlines, mobile numbers, but you need to buy Skype credits via a credit card in order to make these. However, Skype to Skype calls are free. Skype also support video group calls, but you need to pay in order to do that.
With Skype if your internet connection is poor, it will ask you to turn off your video in order to continue the call. Skype also supports file transfers and all of the messages, calls shared are encrypted, but not end-to-end encrypted. On Skype, calls made to mobile and landline take place over the PSTN (the ordinary phone network) which are not encrypted. But all Skype-to-Skype conversation is encrypted.
Viber is an app that has been around for some time. It has supported free calls, including video calls and messages for users. On Viber all messages, calls, photos, videos, and group chats are encrypted. Viber also gives the option of deleting a message after it was sent and lets users hide some chats from their screens.
Duo is the Google app that focuses just on video-calling. Duo has also been launched keeping India in mind and comes with a simple user interface. Just like WhatsApp, you can sign-in via a mobile phone number and don’t need a Gmail account like it is the case with Hangouts. The UI is very simple and users can make one-on-one video calls with their phone contacts.
The video calls are optimised to work over a slow network, and Duo will also adjust the video quality accordingly. Google has said it will explore an audio-only option in case the video quality becomes too poor, but so far that has not been introduced.
In Android, Duo has the knock-knock feature where a user sees a live preview of an incoming call even if the phone’s screen is locked. Duo has the advantage of a cleaner, simple UI, but again the app is a new one and it will take to gain popularity among users. All video calls on Duo are end-to-end encrypted.
Let’s not forget there is another app in the world with over 1 billion monthly active users and that is Facebook Messenger. Facebook also owns WhatsApp. Messenger has supported video-calling for sometime now, though this is not end-to-end encrypted like in WhatsApp. Video calling on Facebook Messenger also lets users switch between the front and back camera in the middle of a call.
Another rising star of the messaging world, Snapchat also has a video calling feature inside chats. Users can even add Snapchat’s filters aka lenses inside a video calls while they are taking place. The only problem is that understanding Snapchat’s UI is not an easy task, especially for anyone above the age of 30. Also Snapchat is not optimised for slower networks in countries like India, etc.