With its new voice calling feature, WhatsApp is perhaps eyeing to triple its user base in India from the current 70 million to more than 100 million by the turn of the year. The newly rolled out VOIP feature for free on invite-only basis now has already turned heads of many telecom companies, just ahead of the spectrum auction next month.[SEE: WhatsApp VOIP Beta Version Rolled Out]
The feature which was earlier leaked on Androidworld.nl, has become a point of discussion on Reddit with discussion going viral on some users getting it on invite-only basis. However, it is not available still on Google PlayStore nor on any other platform. Even if it is offered on invite, it was meant for Android phones currently.
But the point is that the free calling feature of WhatsApp may not succeed the same way its texting app did in India, especially among the youth.
Here are some six reasons why?
Free voice calling is not a new feature and veterans in the field like Skype are still groping for revenues despite huge user base.
WhatsApp is the top messaging application in India with 52% market share, followed by Facebook Messenger with 42%, while Skype with free voice and video calling feature is third at 37% and WeChat with 26% share, based on GlobalWebIndex (GWI) study last year.
Even Viber stood at fifth spot with 18% share and Line stood at sixth position with 12%.
WhatsApp was successful because it empowered the youth, especially girls and young women with the freedom to use smartphone in the public and in colleges too, without attracting oggling looks always. Speaking on phone takes away this freedom.
The free texting feature provided the fastest networking on phones with the need to send messages instantly and chat on smartphones with friends. It is one communication channel that kept people informed while on the go.
Secondly, the powerful texting feature with wi-fi connectivity made students and the youth to spread their friends network so fast that hardly anyone can afford not to be on WhatsApp now.
The VOIP feature on smartphones is not new in India. Skype, Hike, and Line offer free caling feature but failed to imitate the WhatsApp’s unique feature. When rivals failed, why should WhatsApp new calling feature succeed in India?
Ironic but WhatsApp free calling feature may become a cosmetic addition than increase the userbase dramatically. With its alread established 70 million user base in India, WhatsApp may have the advantage of reaching many by just adding an icon but the question here is how many of them prefer it to texting?
More than the feature, it’s a youth fashion statement to text than talking on phone. In fact, a recent survey found that students often preferred texting to voice calling in their campus and class rooms.
Privacy is still a major concern for mobile phone users and WhatsApp provided this to the youth, away from the prying eyes of parents, elders or onlookers. From the freedom entailed in texting on WhatsApp, the Indian youth is unlikely to opt for this icon though given freely.
Especially, students in colleges are prone to texting than calling. In a typical university atmosphere, it was found that students in general texted at least two to three times during class hour on average and female students excelled it with six text messages in one class hour.
The study conducted by researchers at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) on 1,043 students found that almost twice as many students own cell phones as smartphones and business students send the highest number of texts, while science students send the least. But what’s more interesting is that more female students (38%) are texting during the class than male students(27%).
With infrastructure being a major hiccup in India, high decible levels of noise on roads do not allow many commuters to speak on phone, forget about hearing the ring tone even. In fact, majority of youth in India, especially students and girls travel by public transportation and they prefer anyday to send messages by texting than speaking on phone.
WhatsApp’s voice calling roll out is coming after rival Indian app Hike rolled out similar feature for free on 2G and 3G for their app. Though WhatsApp is ahead of its rivals, the feture may not click the way the texting mania did in India.