Friday, April 03, 2015

WhatsApp voice call feature bans regular mobile network calls

With the recent introduction of WhatsApp voice call feature for their Android users (without requiring an invite from one of your friends who have the feature), the WhatsApp client has outright banned the use of regular mobile network to make calls through the app's interface. The WhatsApp developer team (now under Facebook) has decided to make it simply impossible to do what you used to be able to do in their Android client.

Many users have found it very handy to place regular calls to their WhatsApp friends through the app's interface, but with this change, they are forced to take the longer route of going to their home screen, opening the phonebook/contacts list, finding the contact and making a regular call. Or perhaps the slightly better (provided you know about it) but still longer route of opening the "Contact info" screen in WhatsApp, choosing "View in address book" in the menu and making a regular call.

Before the free calls were introduced, WhatsApp allowed making a regular phone call by simply selecting "Call" in the WhatsApp conversation menu. But with the free calls introduced, that option is no longer available, even when it makes sense to make it available.

There are many instances where making regulars calls would be handy.

  • The contact doesn't have an up-to-date WhatsApp client or is using an iPhone.
    • In this case WhatsApp simply complains the contact needs to update the app to receive WhatsApp calls but the message has no option to make a regular call instead!
  • The contact no longer has an active data connection or one of the data connections required is currently switched off.
    • In this case WhatsApp simply calls the contact anyway and then just ends the calls.
    • If your friend doesn't have a data connection, there's no notification whatsoever about the lack of data connection, let alone an option to make a regular call. This can be confusing to you as it appears that your friend's phone is ringing and your friend is ignoring you, when in reality your friend's phone is unreachable (regular network call distinguishes the two but in WhatsApp call they behave the same way).
    • If you don't have a data connection, there's a notification about the lack of data connection (after the app stupidly attempts making a call that requires data), but the message has no option to make a regular call instead.
  • The contact is not using WhatsApp temporarily or permanently.
    • This is a less likely scenario but can happen when the contact switched to a spare phone with no WhatsApp.
I have made a call using the WhatsApp voice call feature, and the quality is not as good as, say Google Hangouts, and definitely not near the regular call quality. I think this all-out ban on regular call in the app is unjustified when the feature requires data and latest client, and especially when the quality is bad. The ability to make a regular call should have been an alternative option.

The feature was released without much thought and is not as polished as it should be. Instead of working in conjunction and cooperation with the regular mobile calls, it attempts to replace regular calls completely and does so in a terrible way.

This ban is coming soon for Apple iPhone users who are still "stuck" with regular calls placed over mobile networks in their current WhatsApp clients for iOS.

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