WhatsApp launches push-to-talk voice messages for 300m users

New feature could help the app succeed in countries where typing on smartphone keyboards is difficult

WhatsApp, one of the most recognisable OTT chat apps, has added a new voice messaging feature.

OTT or 'over the top' messaging services send text and images (and now voice) using a smartphone's data. The market has seen explosive growth in these services with a recent study by Informa estimating that they accounted for 41 billion messages sent each day (compared to 19.5 billion sent via SMS).

With more than 300 million monthly active users WhatsApp itself handles 11 billion sent messages every day, and 325 million photos (that’s more than Snapchat’s daily count of 200 million).

The new voice messaging feature is a simple push-to-talk system. Users hold down on the microphone icon (or use an actual physical button on devices with a keypad) and begin speaking. As soon as the message is recorded you simply let go of the button to send, or swipe to the left to delete and start over.

There’s no limit on the length of the message and the app automatically switches from loud to soft depending on whether the phone is held at arm’s length or by the user’s ear.

Speaking in an interview with AllThingsD, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum said he hoped that the new feature would help the app make headway in countries like Russia, where the 33 letters of the Cyrillic alphabet are often hard to type out on a tiny smartphone screen.

Unusually for an app with such a large userbase, Whatsapp will be launching the new functionality for all its supported mobile platforms, including Nokia, BlackBerry, iPhone and Android.

Although WhatsApp is probably the best known OTT app in the UK, there are many global competitors, many with equally strong geographical bases. Line claims more than 150 million users in Japan; WeChat has over 200 milllion users in China, and Viber (which offers calls through its mobile app and on desktop computers) also has more than 200m.

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