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WhatsApp's New Voice Messaging Challenges Phone Networks

WhatsApp is trying to expand its influence on the messaging world by moving beyond text.

WhatsApp has launched a bold new service that may make some far bigger rivals shiver with nervousness: voice messaging. Starting today, WhatsApp users can record voice snippets and send them to each other in a kind of audio telegram that may be more meaningful than the plain text messages and simple video sharing the app has served up until now.

Simultaneously the app's makers have revealed that it now has 300 million users worldwide—equating to about one in every 20-ish people on the planet. The new push-to-talk feature will roll out to all mobile app users quickly, and is said to have been a big goal for company cofounder Jan Koum for a long time. It's free to users, and the idea is that in circumstances where it's tricky to type, or where language constraints mean speech is swifter than typing, users can instead send a voicemail to their friends.

WhatsApp's move echoes similar phone market-disrupting attempts by tech giants like Apple. The company's upcoming iOS 7 software, destined to power hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads, includes a "voice FaceTime" function that allows audio calling in real time using only the phone's data channel. The move is similar to WhatsApp's because it allows users to dodge voice calling fees typically levied by phone networks—just as WhatsApp itself, and Apple's iMessage are attempts to short-cut the usually expensive SMS texting options.

WhatsApp is the subject of continuous rapt attention by the media world because it punches well above the weight of a small 45-employee startup that's garnered relatively little investment cash.

[Image via Flickr user: Sam Azgor]

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  • Eliz55

    Whatsapp's version of voice is no better than Facebook - recorded messaging, that comes in after a message is already spoken. Voxer is a far better voice delivery mechanism. It's live as it is sent, and also recorded simultaneously. 

  • TextMessage

    In today’s modern marketing world, SMS has become an avenue many businesses find great use for; especially with the popularity of promos, campaigns and bulk messaging which allows businesses and individuals send text messages at reduced price. 

  • Marco Mereu

    Kit nice column but I just wanted to point out apps like Digisocial have already been providing this feature to users since January of 2013. Sarah even covered the launch here That being said we agree wholeheartedly that voice messaging is a great feature that gets use in a multitude of scenarios. Texting recently celebrated its 20th anniversary - its time to move along to what is next.