WhatsApp’s new in-app call function is going to ruin your life

If you’re not careful, you could be in for a rude shock when you see your bill, says Tein Hee Seow

Android users had a gleeful look when they noticed an update to WhatsApp. And with it, a new interface and call feature for in-app calling. Very soon, iOS users will also get the same feature (and look) too.

Thing is, this isn’t a revolutionary move made by WhatsApp. Other similar apps like Line and Viber have deployed voice calling on tbeir apps for some time. Yet, that doesn’t diminish the fact that people have been waiting forever for WhatsApp to include this feature.

By now, scores of people are probably tapping that call icon, thinking that it no longer costs them a single cent. And why shouldn’t they? Just hook up to a Wi-Fi network, and you need no longer worry about busting the talktime given by telcos.

In an ideal world, you get to make free calls, both locally and overseas. But when you’re detached from a Wi-Fi network and you start picking up those WhatsApp calls, you’ll rue the day you are spammed by friends via WhatsApp.

Lest you forget, your incoming calls are now relying on data. Instead of enjoying a free incoming call as all Malaysia mobile numbers do, WhatsApp eats into your data bundle consistently. Before you know it, you’ll have to ration 300MB of data for not just WhatsApp, but also emails, Instagram, Facebook and almost every basic function on your smartphone.

Unfortunately, most users, including myself, have already formed a habit of tapping that call icon, rather than launching the phone app and dialing the number. And you realise it’s time to kick that habit. But it’s easier said than done, which makes it much harder to resist tapping the call icon within WhatsApp.

Sadly, this is how we’ve become so dependent on apps. So much, that we can't reshuffle our habits based on these changes. We become more data hungry, eager to add more bytes into the data bundle just to satisfy our data addiction.

Right now, those who have resisted the lure of 4G speeds and retained their 12GB data are probably sniggering, safe in the fact that they can call as long as they want on WhatsApp.

Uh-oh, we're in (data) trouble

Truth is, we’ve been voraciously devouring mobile data, and it’s starting to create a heavy load on the telcos. Which brings to mind Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong’s infamous keynote during Mobile World Congress 2014, suggesting that data-heavy apps such as WhatsApp and Skype pay telcos for their data service.

Fortunately, that hasn’t come to pass. Instead, the smarter move made by telcos is to provide additional data bundles. In Singtel’s case, the customisable Easy Mobile plans let you dictate how much talktime, SMS and data you want per month. Each telco also has a data top-up bundle, in the event that you’ve been busting your data cap month-on-month.

All of which, by the way, are additional costs that are now borne by you. But only if you choose to. Actually, let's take that back, calling it a choice isn’t real. We can’t live without data.

Perhaps, it took an updated WhatsApp’s update and its new feature to make us realise this. It’s a wake up call for you, me and everyone else, to the harsh truth - that our data bundle is sorely lacking. And the price to pay for additional data is getting pretty steep.

Still think calling via WhatsApp is a good idea? Be prepared to pay more for a bigger data bundle, or ration your data usage.