Select Android users are reporting they’ve happened upon a new voice-calling feature in their WhatsApp mobile applications, indicating that the company is testing the addition ahead of its expansion into territory currently dominated by apps like Skype and Viber. One user has now shared screenshots and video of the voice-calling feature in action, which he said was activated when someone who already had the feature called him.
The user who first reported this did so by posting his screenshots and video to Reddit. He’s also based in India, which points to the possibility that users in that region may be the early testers for the new feature. After his post, others then joined him in sharing screenshots of their WhatsApp applications, which showed a new tab for Calls next to the tabs for Chats and Contacts.
We should note that many of these posts have now been pulled down from Reddit as they contained personal information. However, the video of the feature is still live on YouTube. (See below). It’s unclear at this time how widespread the rollout is, because many news reports are stemming from this original Reddit post. We’ve reached out to WhatsApp for clarification and will update with their response if we receive one.
Based on the shared video, WhatsApp voice calling offers several standard call-handling options, including a speakerphone setting, mute button and the ability to continue to send messages while taking a call.
The update is available in the newest build of the WhatsApp client, it’s said – version 2.11.508. However, this is not yet available on the Google Play Store for a public download.
It’s possible that WhatsApp didn’t intend for the feature to go live at all, as, based on the early reports via Reddit, voice calling is still buggy and not fully functional. For instance, the original poster says that others can receive a call from him, but they then can’t call him back.
This is also not the first time users have reported seeing a voice-call option pop up in their WhatsApp clients, we should point out. In December, a Dutch blog leaked screenshots showing much of the same thing. What’s new today, then, is how the feature can be passed along to other users – something that wasn’t reported at the time of the first leak.
Voice calling is something WhatsApp has had on its roadmap for some time. A year ago, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced at Mobile World Congress that the company would expand into voice calling, which would see his app then going up against not just Skype and Viber, but other competitors, including KakaoTalk, LINE, BBM, Hike and more.
“We use the least amount of bandwidth and we use the hell out of it. We will focus on simplicity,” Koum said at the time. He also stated that voice calling would come to Android and iOS first and then roll out to select Nokia and BlackBerry phones.
The move to launch voice calling comes shortly after WhatsApp’s expansion to the web last month, which enabled desktop users to access the service through a web browser. To log in on the desktop, users have to take a picture of a QR code through WhatsApp on their phone because of the service’s reliance on phone number and SMS verifications instead of usernames and passwords. The log-in option is available to users on Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, but not yet on iOS.
WhatsApp, a company that was acquired by Facebook for $22 billion, also recently announced it has grown to 700 million users, up from 600 million in August. In the announcement, posted by Koum to his Facebook profile, he also promised that the company was excited to “keep building a great product in 2015.”
We’ve reached out to WhatsApp for an official comment on the latest leak, and will update if they respond. Update: The company says it’s checking to see if it can provide an official comment. Stay tuned. Update 2: 4 PM ET, Whatsapp has yet to provide comment.