Wednesday, April 15, 2015
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About two years ago rumors started to spread across the internet about the possibility to have a free call function in WhatsApp. Initially the feature was speculated to be part of a so-called premium service. Users would have to pay to access it.
Time has passed and still the feature has not been implemented. There is a call option in WhatsApp that can be found the checking the settings when the user brows a conversation with a contact but that brings up the dialer. So far the call function in WhatsApp is just a link to the dialer which means that calls are done using the carrier voice network. This means that costs will apply just like with a normal call.
It Is Still In The Works
Even if the feature was announced two years ago and nothing much has been heard ever since recent news revealed that the free call feature will still be implemented. It was set to launch some time in 2014 but it was pushed several times due to various technical problems. WhatsApp wants to develop a service similar to VoIP systems in which users will be able to call their contacts over the internet using a wi-fi connection or their 3G or 4G data link. Even if a user would use his 3G network to place a call over the internet similar to how Skype works the costs would still be lower than regular international voice calls. However, developing such technologies takes time as several technical challenges need to be dealt with.
Let not forget that WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook. Facebook has its own messenger app for mobile devices that supports voice calls over internet but nobody uses them. There is a severe issue with voice quality. Even if they would take the technology used by the Facebook mobile messenger client and bring it to WhatsApp the quality would not be up to par. From a development perspective it is difficult to make an app that can gain access to the mobile phone’s microphones to ensure that voice quality is decent and the ambient noise cancelation feature works properly.
The progress on the feature is still unknown but it has been confirmed by WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum. Prior to his announcement several users discovered some interesting icons in one of the latest APK packages of the mobile app that seem to be related to the voice call feature. According to Jan Koum WhatsApp will not create a comflict with Facebook Messenger which already has such a feature. WhatsApp users will only be able to call their own contacts which means that the feature is limited to mobile handhelds online and does not support tablets or other devices.
At the same time implementing a free voice call feature will get WhatsApp in line with other similar messaging apps that already have this functionality. On the other hand providing such services requires significant investments in equipment such as servers, bandwidth and additional developers. WhatsApp might attempt to recover its investments by charging yearly fees for the service but nothing is confirmed so far.
It is worth mentioning that false news started to appear around the iOS version of the app which prompts users for microphone access. This access request has been there for quite some time as it is being used by the app to allow users to record and send audio files to their contacts which is basically a voice messaging service. On the other hand the latest APK version contains a folder called “WhatsApp Call”.
Why It Is Needed
A lot of people use WhatsApp and a secondary app to be able to place calls over the internet to their contacts. When the new feature will be implemented it is expected to see a usage decrease of similar apps such as WeChat, Viber and Line which already have the capability to place voice calls. This will further increase WhatsApp domination over the mobile messaging market. Around 600 million users have WhatsApp installed on their smartphones and many more will start using it in the near future.
The newest APK file can be found on multiple third party websites and the ones that are curious about the new feature can have a sneak peak by downloading onto their computers and unpacking it.
Getting Free Calls Without A Sim Card
One of the biggest advantages of having WhatsApp with a call function is the ability to call people without having a sim card in the phone. It is possible to install and configure WhatsApp on a smartphone without a sim card or phone number. Once installed the device can be connected to a wi-fi network and place voice calls. It is even possible to install it on a PC using the Bluestacks software. Bluestacks emulates an Android device which can be used to install applications from the App Store.
The application of the features expands as we look at situation in which the carrier’s network is affected and the user is not able to place a traditional phone call. As long as there is a connectable wi-fi network in range the user will be able to call people in his contact list that have WhatsApp installed. Considering the number of WhatsApp users the feature might become the primary voice call option for a lot of people.
Release Date Not Yet Confirmed
The WhatsApp Call feature has not received an official release date. Initially it was expected to be deployed in Q2 2014. Since it was not ready and the sale to Facebook was in the works the feature release was pushed once more. In more recent news the feature was speculated to be released in early 2015. As stated above there are clear signs that it is in the works and the current version already has some files that will be used for the call feature. It is still unknown how WhatsApp will be charging its users for the feature. There is a strong possibility that the feature will be free but that remains to be seen. Current users still need to pay $0.99 per year after the first year of trial ends.