We have been anticipating the ability to make voice calls from Facebook-owned WhatsApp Messenger on iOS for a while now, without any clear idea of when the feature would come to the iPhone. The voice calling feature was first announced at 2014’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and was widely expected to launch in the second quarter of 2014.
At the Facebook F8 conference in March, co-founder Brian Acton announced that the free voice calling feature will arrive within the next few weeks. Acton was speaking on a panel with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and head of Facebook Messenger David Marcus, and said that WhatsApp has spent the last year refining and testing voice calling before launching the service.
This means that much of the work involved in developing a solid voice calling feature was done prior to the capability launching on Android devices in February. On Android, the feature is invite-only but is expected to open up to everyone soon. This feature is different from the voice messages feature already available. You can already send voice messages to your contacts by pressing and holding the microphone above the keyboard.
When the voice calling feature is enabled, though, you will be able to make phone calls to your contacts. This pits WhatsApp Messenger more firmly against Skype, which already allows you to call your contacts on their cell phones and landlines, for a fee. A key difference in WhatsApp Messenger is that voice calling is expected to be free.
VentureBeat asked Acton if he could confirm his “couple weeks” comment, and Acton said yes at first but then backpedaled, saying “Well, several” weeks.
WhatsApp Messenger is available for free on the App Store.