WhatsApp takes on Discord with new encrypted voice chat feature

The feature allows up to 32 people in a group to converse without the need to hold down the mic button.

WhatsApp is taking direct aim at voice chat apps like Discord and Clubhouse with the launch of a new voice chat feature designed for large group conversations.

The company announced that it is rolling out the new voice chats over the coming weeks on iOS and Android. The feature allows groups of up to 32 people to participate in casual, free-flowing voice conversations without the need to continuously hold down the mic button.

Voice chats are initiated within a WhatsApp group chat, but members aren’t automatically connected to the call like a regular group voice call. Instead, they receive a notification and can tap to join in. This opt-in functionality creates a more casual vibe according to WhatsApp.

WhatsApp voice chat feature in a group
A screenshot showing WhatsApp voice chat feature in groups / Photo via WhatsApp

Once in a voice chat, users can continue scrolling back and send text messages while listening and occasionally chiming in. Tapping the call controls at the top of the screen allows muting, hanging up, or messaging without having to exit the chat.

End-to-end encryption ensures voice chats remain private. The feature will first roll out to WhatsApp’s largest groups between 33-128 participants over the coming weeks.

The new capability brings WhatsApp more in line with chat apps like Discord, Telegram and Slack which have successfully deployed similar voice chat features. It also poses a challenge to Clubhouse which popularized the concept of casual “drop-in” voice conversations.

The voice chat launch caps several months of rapid feature development for WhatsApp. The company recently added multi-device support and introduced in-app shopping flows to boost its e-commerce functionality.

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