(BARCELONA) — Many Americans believe they’ve been abused for years at the hands of wireless phone providers with high monthly fees and annoying limits on texts and voice calls. The free text and picture app WhatsApp, bought last week by Facebook for $19 billion, lets users skip around those limits and if that wasn’t enough, WhatsApp announced Monday it will be adding free voice calls to the $1-a-year app.
Jan Koum, CEO of WhatsApp, announced that anyone who downloads the chat app to their phones will be able to make Internet phone calls on Android and iPhones this spring and sometime later on Blackberry, Microsoft and Nokia phones.
“We are going to introduce voice in WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year,” Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “I think we have the best voice product out there. We use the least amount of bandwidth.”
Though the current version of WhatsApp has a voice function, users attach and send voice messages to one another instead of engaging in a real time conversation. The new feature puts WhatsApp in the same realm as popular chat apps in Asia, such as South Korea’s Line and China’s WeChat.
Raul Castanon-Martinez, senior analyst of cloud and mobile apps at Yankee Group, said that the addition of voice calling makes sense. “I remember hearing rumors about it in the second half of 2013,” he told ABC News. “It even may have made it more attractive to Facebook [to acquire].”
On Feb. 19, Facebook announced that it had acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Koum said at Monday’s event that the app had gained another 15 million daily users since and that WhatsApp now has 330 million daily users.
Castanon-Martinez doesn’t see Koum adding more features to WhatsApp following the Facebook deal and the increased user base. “It wouldn’t make sense and it’d make the app more cumbersome to use,” he said. Instead, he sees WhatsApp’s next move to partner with telecom companies worldwide to integrate their app with the service.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Kristen Shanahan, KFOR
Chandra Johnson, Deseret News