WhatsApp is planning to let users send and receive voice messages through its app for the first time, following its sale to Facebook last week for the huge price of $19bn.
WhatsApp already has voice message function but only in pre-recorded form- the new service will allow message to be sent in real time.
CEO Jan Koum said the voice service will be deployed for Android and iPhones this spring, with Blackberry and Microsoft and Nokia phones coming later.
‘We are going to introduce voice in WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year,’ Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. ‘I think we have the best voice product out there. ‘We use the least amount of bandwidth.’
Koum added: “The same values of the leading messaging platform in the world will be the same on voice. We’re going to focus on simplicity and we will make sure the same gold standard will be applied.”
WhatsApp’s expansion into voice represents an increased threat to mobile operators. As with its free text messaging service, calls will be routed via smartphone internet connections and so has the potential to erode traditional revenue streams for networks.
WhatsApp’s strong brand consumer brand also means it will more directly challenge Skype, the popular free calls app owned by Microsoft, and Google Voice.
System outage sparks anger
The news follows server issues that hit the app on Saturday night, making the service unavaiable for several hours on Saturday night.
The messaging service tweeted at 8.16pm UK time on Saturday: “We hope to be back up and recovered shortly.”
Users reacted angrily, saying their chat conversations were only showing a loading asterisk and the alert “Connecting…”
Taylor ITWT16 said on Twitter: “As Soon As Facebook Buys Whatsapp, Whatsapp Starts Malfunctioning.”
Jazzy Marwaha tweeted: “Its been like 4 hours, you would have thought they could sort whatsapp out by now.”
By 10.30pm the service appeared to be working again.
The firm tweeted: “WhatsApp service has been restored. We are so sorry for the downtime.”
Facebook announced last Thursday that it would pay $4bn (£2.4bn) in cash and $15bn (£9bn) in Facebook shares as part of the deal to buy the real-time messaging service.
The app’s founders and employees will get $3bn (£1.8bn) of the shares as restricted stock that will vest over four years after the deal closes.
The purchase marks the largest single acquisition in Facebook’s 10-year history.
WhatsApp will “continue to operate independently and retain its brand” despite the acquisition, Facebook said.