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Why WhatsApp’s Global Launch of Video Calling in India Is Big

WhatsApp is ready to make video calling the next big ubiquitous feature on our phones and how!

Updated
Tech News
5 min read
Why WhatsApp’s Global Launch of Video Calling in India Is Big

WhatsApp just announced their video calling feature in a global launch event in New Delhi. This is a big deal. Not just feature wise, but the fact that the global messaging giant chose India to launch this.

When you run an instant messaging app with a billion-plus users all over the world, everything is done for a strategic advantage. And here are the reasons why WhatsApp is knocking on India’s doors.

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Reason No. 1: WhatsApp Video Calling is Built by an Indian Engineer, Manpreet Singh

When you meet Manpreet Singh, an unassuming yet brilliant product manager at the world’s largest instant messaging app company WhatsApp, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride.

An Indian engineer who joined WhatsApp in 2013 to build the voice calling feature that enables over 100 million daily connected calls is pretty much the blue eyed boy right now at Jan Koum’s global business.

WhatsApp just announced their video calling feature in a global launch event in New Delhi. (Photo: iStock)

Gaining incredible success and confidence from voice calling, Manpreet set his eyes and skills on the next big step, video calling on WhatsApp. Now video calling is not a new feature. Skype has been doing it for well over a decade, others like Facetime and Facebook’s own Messenger have had it too for a few years.

But what makes WhatsApp’s video calling feature a gargantuan task for the company is the sheer scale of the network. With over one billion monthly active users all over the world, of which India contributes a hefty 160 million, WhatsApp trumps any other messaging app on the planet when it comes to volume.

The fact that it is simple, works across platforms, on 2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi, is the secret sauce for the popularity of this app.

Teenagers use it to communicate with teachers for classwork, offices use it for on-the-go updates and communication with teams, businesses use it for commerce and customer support, law enforcement agencies and government employees use it too, and of course, parents use it regularly for some #sanskari advice, Kapil Sharma jokes and essay-sized forwards.

WhatsApp has become to messaging what Xerox is to copiers and Google is to internet search. To make the new video calling feature as simple as the basic messaging app for mummy-papa, dada-dadi and the cool kids on the block was Manpreet’s biggest challenge.

Amidst increasing concerns of safety and privacy, he also had to make sure it was secure and end-to-end encrypted so snoops can’t get their dirty hands on your late night video chats with your boo.

The freedom and autonomy is both exhilarating, and at times, frustrating. (Photo: iStock)

Lastly, he had to make sure that the feature just works. From Bandra to Bangkok and Calcutta to California, on hundreds of carrier networks and thousands of phone and tablet models.

If this wasn’t pressure at all, like most new products in the sandbox at WhatsApp, Manpreet worked on the new video calling feature, coding and testing for months, all by himself.

The freedom and autonomy is both exhilarating, and at times, frustrating when you’re building a global product that will be used by millions of people. But studying and optimising the product for Indian WhatsApp users gave it a natural global appeal. We are, after all, some of the most discerning app consumers in the world with over 180 million users on WhatsApp’s global network.

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Reason No. 2: WhatsApp Video Calling is Built for Internet Networks in Countries Like India.

Manpreet Singh confesses:

A lot of Bay Area companies (Silicon Valley comprising of San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Palo Alto) don’t really think of Indian internet conditions. But we have consciously tested the product across a wide variety of beta testers in India. WhatsApp enjoys patronage from more than 160 million monthly active users in India and that is the highest from any one country.
Manpreet Singh, Product Head, WhatsApp
Video calls will be available to users across iOS, Android as well as Windows. (Photo: The Quint)

Manpreet adds with a sense of accomplishment:

I’ve been video calling my parents in India for the past few weeks and they’re very happy that they don’t have to install a new app and can still do cross-platform vide calls on WhatsApp.
Manpreet Singh, Product Head, WhatsApp

Video calling on WhatsApp is built to work on all kinds of network speeds. You have a high speed WiFi or 4G network, you can experience HD video calling. But if you’re on 2G or 3G, like most Indian mobile phone users, the video gets cached and gets shared with you in parts.

This is a markedly different approach compared to Google’s Duo video calling app. In Duo, if the bandwidth is low for supporting video calling, only the audio continues and video disappears.

WhatsApp has worked on better video compression and believes pushing video packets through caching is a better approach since people want to see the person on the other end on a video call. How this works in real world conditions needs to be tested.

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Reason No. 3: WhatsApp Needs to Make Sure Indian Babus Get With its Programme!

In August 2016, when WhatsApp updated their privacy policy and agreed to share user demographic information with parent company Facebook, there was widespread chaos. Users felt threatened and amidst all the chaos, there was a legal battle to prevent data sharing.

Fortunately for WhatsApp, a Delhi High Court bench headed by Justice G Rohini allowed WhatsApp to go ahead with the revised privacy policy, and to share user data with Facebook.

Even though India is the largest market for WhatsApp, they do not have a dedicated public policy person who liaises with the government of India. Facebook’s India public policy team manages WhatsApp, Instagram and other properties.

WhatsApp is ready to make video calling the next big ubiquitous feature on our phones. (Photo: iStock)

While WhatsApp enjoys immense goodwill and usage within all sections of society including babus, a global event hosted in India by the company reflects renewed commitment to the market.

It also gives the team an opportunity to educate and inform necessary stakeholders in the establishment about the company’s intentions.

The environment couldn’t have been better for the video calling feature though. With 4G devices getting better and cheaper, Reliance Jio’s 4G push making the incumbent players’ data efforts better, and close to 200 million users in its kitty, WhatsApp is ready to make video calling the next big ubiquitous feature on our phones.

Google, Microsoft, Apple, your turn now.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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