WhatsApp debuts video calling service

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India is the largest market for WhatsApp globally, with 160 million monthly active users, said WhatsApp business head Neeraj Arora, as the company launches in-app video calling for its users.

“India is the biggest country we have- more users than any other country in the world,” said Arora in a chat with ET.

Adding video calling was the next logical step for the widely popular app, which boasts of a billion monthly active users, based on the feedback it gets from its users across the world through different channels such as customer support emails and comments left on the app stores.

“Video calling…is a big step forward. It is in line with our mission- we want to make sure we give every possible way for people to stay in touch with their families and friends. Video calling is the most immersive (experience) and something that makes you feel really close to somebody else,” said Arora.

The video calling feature has been available in the beta or test mode for a few users for the past few months, but will now be rolled out to all users across the globe.

Arora said he hopes the initial experience is good for the users, but added that it would take some time to improve the quality for the feature.

The way it works is simple- a user goes to the phone call option in a chat window, and gets the option for either a voice or video call. Once they choose video call, it places a video call between the two people.

Will the feature work on the relatively choppy Internet connections in India? “How we have built this product is just like voice calls, which is if you have a great network condition- a WiFi or 4G- it will be HD quality, and you start moving to conditions which are not that great, it will be slightly low resolution, we hope it will still work but the quality will go up and down a little depending upon the quality of the network,” said Arora.

Going back to the early days in the evolution of WhatsApp, Arora said the team worked extensively to ensure that the app works well on the different kind of phones and slower 2G networks. “That’s what the focus was- if it works in India in different conditions, it will work everywhere else. And that really helped us get so many users so quickly in India,” he said.

Tracing the features and capabilities built into WhatsApp since 2009, when it was only a status update app, to now, when it supports not just text messaging, but also allows use on a desktop, lets users add emojis and text to pictures, audio calling and end-to-end encryption of messages and calls.

He further spoke about how localisation has helped WhatsApp, which is available in more than 50 different languages around the world and ten Indian languages.

“The important thing to note here is a lot of this work has been done by our own users. It’s crowdsourced, a lot of users were passionate about using WhatsApp in their own languages so we gave them a tool to help us translate WhatsApp in their own language,” he added.

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