Facebook-owned WhatsApp is to offer free voice calling within its iOS app for the first time, starting in a few weeks, potentially harming the pockets of mobile operators which have already seen SMS traffic decrease thanks to the popularity of Over the Top (OTT) messaging services.
The expansion was announced by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton at Facebook’s F8 developer conference last night as it looks to take on the likes of Skype.
This follows the launch of the Android service last month, although currently users have to be invited by a fellow Android fan in order to make calls.
Customers with jailbroken iPhones have found ways to access the service via a number of workarounds, so it may be that WhatsApp has brought the launch forward to prevent this becoming widespread.
It differs from the voice messages feature currently available on WhatsApp, which allows users to send voice messages to your contacts by pressing and holding the microphone icon above the keyboard. The new feature allows users to directly make phone calls to your contacts.
Since its purchase by Facebook for around $19bn last year, WhatsApp, which has around 700 million users worldwide, enjoyed a somewhat quiet period before launching several new services earlier this year.
This included WhatSim, which will allow users to use the app when travelling the globe thanks to a new dedicated SIM card service which does away with the need for a data connection.
That month also saw the launch of Whatsapp Web, a new service which lets users send and receive messages through internet browsers on Windows-powered desktop PCs for the first time. The service will be available to Whatsapp users on Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices, but not to those using iOS due to what the company called “Apple platform limitations.”
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