Whatsapp soft launched their voice calling feature Whatsapp VoIP and it is far from satisfactory.
Almost a year after promising it, Whatsapp finally started rolling out its voice calling feature. There are great many things to say about it. Some good. Some bad. Some just ugly.
Take the information below with a grain of salt. I live in Israel, which is far from Whatsapp’s target audience, so my guess is the calls I’ve made traveled the world before getting to their destination (which was usually in the same building).
The Good about Whatsapp VoIP
- I loved the launch
- Never really making it official
- Starting off with opening up the feature if you received a call from someone who has that feature
- Then allowing people to download the latest version from their website
- The voice quality
- Awesome. Made a call with my wife. She immediately said I sound weird. I asked her if she hears me better than on the phone. She said yes. She wasn’t used to HD voice
- My guess (which is detailed below)? This is WebRTC and the voice codec is Opus. But again – only a guess
- Works well on LTE with little coverage
- My smartphone (OnePlus) had 2 bars of LTE cellular coverage
- It didn’t hurt the call quality as far as I could tell – it worked better than most
- User profile image of the caller
- Don’t know why, but I really liked the implementation they did
- Better than other apps I am using
- It seems people invest in their Whatsapp profile image for no good reason, and now it actually shows
- Recent calls
- This is where the real power lies
- Once this service become widely spread and usable, people will find it easier to go to their recent Whatsapp text chats and just call someone from there
The Bad about Whatsapp VoIP
- Missing desktop notifications
- It’s really nice to see calls coming to my phone
- Would be nice if the web interface notified on incoming calls as well
- There’s some latency issue there, where a call can get 1-2 seconds of echo easily
- It sounds bad when it happens, which isn’t every time, but somehow, in most of my calls one of the sides had this nagging echo issue, and it wasn’t something I could nail down to network condition or a specific device
Until they fix this echo issue, the use of Whatsapp for voice for me will be non-existent.
In Israel, Whatsapp is everywhere. I receive on a daily basis a voice call over Whatsapp from someone just trying to see what that phone icon on the screen does. And then there’s echo in one of the sides of the call. Never in the same side. A missed opportunity.
Is Whatsapp Voice WebRTC?
I don’t know. When Whatsapp was 500 million users strong, I hypothesized that Whatsapp voice will be based on WebRTC. Whatsapp recently passed the 700 million users mark. I haven’t changed my mind and still believe it is WebRTC based – it is the most logical thing.
What makes WebRTC a better decision is also Whatsapp’s recent foray into the desktop – and its use of WebRTC there. If it is using WebRTC in its mobile app, then adding voice to the browser will be easier to achieve.
iOS First Anyone?
Whatsapp decided to launch voice for Android prior to iOS.
They also decided to launch Whatsapp for web on Chrome first. Then Firefox. And then… wait.
This should be a huge red light for those who believe they had the hegemony up until now – iOS first is the way to go for most apps and developers, but in some cases, it seems that Android works best.
For those interested in VoIP, Android may well be a better platform to start with.