There’s just a thumbnail’s width of difference between the popular video chat apps WhatsApp and Kik, but it’s enough to demonstrate two unique paths video calling may take in the near future. Both apps began life as messaging services before each added a video calling feature last year.
WhatsApp went the traditional route (if you can use the word traditional to describe a field less than a decade old) and introduced 1-to-1, full-screen video calls as an add-on to its core messaging service.
Kik tried something new, something it doesn’t even define as “video calling.” It introduced “evolved” chat by adding small, round, thumbnail-sized video calling portals that float above your chat screen and let you keep texting while you hold a video chat.
Add in the fact that Kik allows group chat for up to six people and, if you can overlook how small a thumbnail-sized image really is, in my opinion you’ve got something new, something with a little more promise than WhatsApp’s video calling.
WhatsApp vs Kik: What They Have to Offer
Sharing a messaging app history, Kik and WhatsApp have much in common.
They’re both available on and work across the major smartphone operating systems, Android and iOS, as well as the Windows phone. They both have all the necessary emojis, gifs, customizable memes, and stickers to keep group chats interesting. And they are both built to raid your phone to add contacts and make use of its cameras in-app, both for stills and live video.
In addition to this automated contact search, Kik will also let you search by username, Kik code, or by topic using a number of hashtag public groups, such as #HarryStyles or #NFL. Given WhatsApp’s billion-strong membership, it doesn’t really need all that fuss. Just search by name, and send an invite to anyone who hasn’t already joined…if such people still exist.
Both services are free to join and use, and require nothing more than a phone number or email address to set up. They’re also both quality messaging services with easy to assemble group chat features and easy to navigate user interfaces–with Kik being perhaps a little cleaner. If you’re looking for a chat service, the decision will likely come down to which app your friends are using.
If you’re looking for a video calling service, though, there’s a little more to consider.
WhatsApp Video Calling
As I mentioned up top, the difference in video calling presentation between these two is more than skin deep.
WhatsApp is built to rival the big players in social media video calling, notably Google’s Duo, Microsoft’s Skype, and Apple’s FaceTime. And it has definitely got all of those soundly beaten as a messaging service, despite Skype’s recent efforts at a Snapchat-inspired update. Given that advantage, all it needs to do to prevent leaking users to those rivals is mimic their video calling capabilities. That’s easy to do. Duo and FaceTime are strict 1-to-1 callers, and FaceTime can’t even reach out beyond iOS users. Of course, Skype is the standout here with its ability to do group calls.
So, WhatsApp just added basic 1-to-1 calling. And it looks and acts just like the others with this feature. Video mode is initiated by tapping the video camera icon next to a contact’s name. Up springs a full screen-sized live feed of your remote friend, and you’re on your way. It’s a robust service, within the usual context of your specific network speeds, and is a great way to switch quickly from chatting to a face-to-face call. If you want to do more on a video call, however, you’ll need Kik.
Kik Video Calling
Kik’s Canadian designers don’t want you to interrupt your messaging to make a video call. They see the two functions as one. So, they created a system to let you do both simultaneously.
Once you’ve started a chat you can switch to a video call (or, I should say, add a video call) by tapping the camera icon beside your contact’s name. Rather than your screen totally transforming to a live image of your friend’s face, you instead get to see them in a little round window at the top of your screen. As you speak you can continue to send them, or anyone else, the usual emoticons and texts.
It isn’t perfect though. For one thing, the screen gets pretty crowded once your keyboard rolls up across the bottom to let you type, and some features like the drawing app Scribble Chat will still take over your entire screen if activated. And it’s true that those video windows are very small by comparison to a full-screen image. It’d be hard to do justice to that sparkly engagement ring in a six-person live call.
On the other hand, WhatsApp also allows you to send and receive messages while video calling, but the call is paused and your partner is put on hold while you tend to your busy social life.
It’s not so much the functionality of Kik that gets my vote over WhatsApp, it’s the vision. As VC Daily pondered previously in a Kik review, I’d love to see this multi-purpose concept applied beyond the Kik app so users could continue a face-to-face chat while using their phone to browse the internet, instead of just to chat. That opens the possibility of sharing screens within the video calling app so that users could shop, search, and watch streaming media together. Even though Kik doesn’t have that kind of technology just yet, I’d still favor it over WhatsApp. It has everything WhatsApp has, plus a little innovation and a cleaner interface.
Having said that, I’m facing an uphill battle in getting my own friends and family to abandon WhatsApp and join me on Kik, so I don’t blame you if you stick with Facebook’s billion-user giant for a little longer while Kik continues to evolve, possibly changing the nature of social media video calling in the process.
Image source: Flickr CC user microsiervos