WhatsApp Adds Voice And Video Calling To Desktop App

WhatsApp users using the desktop version will now finally be able to utilise voice and video calling whilst using a PC or laptop.

Facebook had introduced the desktop version of WhatsApp for Windows and Mac, way back in 2015. Now nearly six years after its arrival, the app has eventually gained the same core capabilities that rivals such as Skype has enjoyed for years.

WhatsApp confirmed in a blog post that desktop users will be able to utilise their computer’s much bigger screens for calls in both portrait and landscape mode. However, it only supports one-to-one calls for now – group voice and video calls are expected to be added in the future.

Voice, video calls

“We’re excited to announce that private and secure one-to-one voice and video calls are now available on WhatsApp’s desktop app,” the firm blogged on Thursday.

It said that during 2020, the messaging app had seen “significant increases in people calling one another on WhatsApp, often for long conversations.”

Indeed, on last New Year’s Eve, WhatsApp said that it broke the record for the most calls ever made in a single day with 1.4 billion voice and video calls.

“With so many people still apart from their loved ones, and adjusting to new ways of working, we want conversations on WhatsApp to feel as close to in-person as possible, regardless of where you are in the world or the tech you’re using,” said the firm.

Think you know everything about WhatsApp? Read our Tales in Tech History piece.

“Answering on a bigger screen makes it easier to work with colleagues, see your family more clearly on a bigger canvas, or free up your hands to move around a room while talking,” it said. “To make desktop calling more useful, we made sure it works seamlessly for both portrait and landscape orientation, appears in a resizable standalone window on your computer screen, and is set to be always on top so you never lose your video chats in a browser tab or stack of open windows.”

And in an additional piece of good news, voice and video calls on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted.

The move to facilitate calls over large screens could put WhatsApp into some form of competition with video-conferencing powerhouses such as Zoom or Google Meet, but the lack of group calls means those rivals will not be losing any sleep over the development just yet.

Botched update

WhatsApp has courted controversy of late over a privacy policy update.

Indeed, WhatsApp faced such a backlash that the government in India (WhatsApp’s biggest market) decided to quiz the firm over the change.

The issue began in early January 2021, when WhatsApp said it would update its data sharing policy as a condition of its use going forward.

Users of the popular messaging app began receiving messages asking them to agree to new terms of service and privacy policies.

The changes were compulsory and were due to take effect on February 8.

Users would not be able to continue using WhatsApp if they didn’t agree to the new terms and conditions.

WhatsApp then delayed the 8 February deadline, as users flocked to rival services such as Telegram or Signal, with the latter hiring more staff to deal with the surge.

What Facebook messaging app had failed to properly explain was that the terms update was largely aimed at giving users new options for interacting with businesses and providing more clarity about how it collects and uses data.

Essentially, WhatsApp’s data-sharing policy was not changing, but the company’s notification for many users was the first time they became aware of that policy, which has been in place since 2016.

The policy allows Facebook to access a WhatsApp user’s phone number and other registration information, such as email address, as well as information about the user’s phone, the user’s IP address and any payments or financial transactions made over WhatsApp.

But personal conversations are not shared, as chats are protected by end-to-end encryption.

These data-sharing terms don’t apply in the UK or the EU, which have different privacy laws.

In 2016 WhatsApp gave existing users a limited time to opt out of the data-sharing arrangement, and if users opted out at that time, their choice will continue to be respected.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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