Apps

WhatsApp video call works and it’s going to eat Skype and FaceTime for breakfast

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Yesterday, WhatsApp after a long long wait introduced video calls. Seriously this was a longtime coming, but now that it has been launched, I have managed used it a couple of times already on a wonky 3G connection. The big takeaway is that it works very well, better than Skype and FaceTime on the iPhone, and this leads me to believe it will have their business for breakfast just the way it is dominating the chat and messaging space.

Now many will argue that Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s FaceTime have been around a very long time and they know this space better than anyone else. But the big the thing is that WhatsApp doesn’t only have a robust product in place which works as well or if not better than its rivals, it has the user base to take this feature to mainstream.

For the first time yesterday, WhatsApp shared some India centric active monthly users. And the number was a staggering 160 million active monthly users which is the most it has in any country. Globally, its scale is even more intimidating with over a billion active monthly users.

Skype, FaceTime or for that matter Google’s new Duo apps can’t hope to match this scale. Skype has just 300 million monthly active users globally, which just short of a third of WhatsApp’s global user base. In India alone, WhatsApp has more than half monthly active users than what Skype has globally. In the case of Google’s new Duo app there are just 5 million monthly active users as of September 2016, which is almost irrelevant and Apple doesn’t talk about the numbers on FaceTime.

FaceTime should have numbers closer to WhatsApp considering it works in Apple’s armada of 1 billion iOS devices and also the Mac, but then again WhatsApp also works on those 1 billion iOS devices and it also works on Android and Windows Phone.

The brilliance of WhatsApp has always been that it doesn’t need an email ID or social network profile to be logged in. It was designed for emerging markets and was always tied to a phone number. I remember using it even on my old Nokia N97 for the first time in 2009. Literally, you download and get going, there’s no barrier.

And its ubiquity is so far reaching that everyone uses it – our parents, the police, and some business are also fully dependent on it.

Heck today my mother asked me to get her WhatsApp video calls on her phone, and she is technically illiterate. Apparently, her school friends sent her an invite and in the years she’s used Skype she’s never jumped on a new thing like this.

But the thing about video calls is that they haven’t really taken off the way chat and VoIP calls have. That’s more to do with bandwidth and the fact that it is a little awkward to communicate using a phone with someone else.

WhatsApp video calls will change this. Firstly, it has been designed used on networks that suck – like the ones in India. That’s why I was able to connect pretty easily with a couple of my friends. It dynamically boosts the quality if it detects you on a Wi-Fi connection and optimises things if you’re on a mobile network.

WhatsApp’s Manpreet Singh told me yesterday that they are iterating the system and are trying to increase the boundaries of what’s possible. When I asked him for minimum requirements for the using video calls, he refused to say 3G or 4G or even 2G for that matter, which is an indicator that they are trying to get these video calls to work on even 2G connections. If that happens, it will be amazing.

The user interface just works. If you look at how Apple implements FaceTime in iOS, it is a horrid affair. The buttons are too small and it is literally impossible to toggle between a FaceTime audio call and video calls. WhatsApp has straightforward and simple to understand buttons. It also makes multitasking on the phone quite painless, which allows you to get other stuff done while chatting with friends and family. Lastly, it remains encrypted end-to-end.

The combination of its towering scale, its simplicity, ubiquity and robust and smart feature set and user interface should ensure that it will literally kick Skype out of the video chat game. FaceTime will be a harder act considering the way Apple has integrated it on an OS level, but then again almost all FaceTime users are also WhatsApp users.

At the end of the day, it will be having Microsoft and Apple’s video call services for breakfast, while depriving Google’s Duo the leftover breadcrumbs.

(Image: WhatsApp Official Blog)