WhatsApp looks like it’s chasing after Zoom with its web app moving to support video calls with up to 50 people, effectively offering an alternative to Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype.
The new video calling feature is currently in a beta version of the desktop app, which was spotted by WABetaInfo (opens in new tab). It works by transferring people into the new Facebook Messenger Rooms, a service within Facebook and its linked Messenger service that facilitates video calls with large groups.
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A shortcut in the WhatsApp menu redirects people to Facebook Messenger Rooms, where they can then create a virtual meeting room within the Facebook service and then invite people to join. Users can also do all this from directly within the WhatsApp Web app. And Facebook Messenger Rooms allows virtual backgrounds (opens in new tab) to be added for individual participants, giving the service another feature that’s proved popular in Zoom.
There’s no word on when WhatsApp will take this beta feature and integrate it into the full public release of the WhatsApp Web. But we suspect it’ll do so sooner than later if it wants to tap into the current appetite for video calls and meetings.
WhatsApp recently rolled out eight-person video calls on its mobile app, doubling the previous call limit. And the 50 person video call option is slated to come to WhatsApp on iOS and Android, though having such a large amount of people on a single video call is probably better saved for the web app when at a laptop or desktop with a larger display.
Since its bought WhatsApp for $19 billion back in 2014, Facebook hasn’t made too many dramatic changes to it. But adding more integrations with Facebook and Messenger could expand WhatsApp beyond a just being a wildly popular messaging service.
It’s got a long way to go to dethrone Zoom, which has surged in popularity as more people turn to video calls to conduct business and keep in touch while under coronavirus lockdowns. But services like Google Meet, Google Duo and Microsoft Teams are constantly adding new features, providing no shortage of worthy alternatives.