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WhatsApp messaging service to add voice

5:16 PM, Feb 24, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) Just a handful of days after Facebook purchased the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, things already are getting a bit more interesting.

On Monday, the cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows folks to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS announced that it soon will be offering a voice service.

And that may be just the beginning. The voice service will be available on Android and iPhones this spring and some time later on Blackberry, Microsoft and Nokia phones, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

"We are going to introduce voice in WhatsApp in the second quarter of the year," he told the huge tech gathering. "I think we have the best voice product out there."

Never mind that WhatsApp will supposedly remain autonomous and operate independently of Facebook. It's already moving forward in a critical and competitive tech front. WhatsApp currently has a voice function but only in note form. This new service will be live.

Last Wednesday, Facebook shocked the social networking world when it acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, in a deal widely regarded as one of the industry's biggest to date. Already, Koum is joking about the deal.

Last week we added a new Facebook friend," Koum told the gathering. "I don't know if you guys heard."

The blockbuster deal made serious waves with those in the telecommunications industry who gathered this week in the Catalan city, but also sparked concern among users that Facebook would introduce advertising to WhatsApp.

Koum insisted that there are no designs to add "marketing" to the messaging service.

"There are no planned changes," said Koum. "Our vision and mission are aligned. We both want to make the world more connected."

Facebook is paying $12 billion in stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp. Koum along with fellow founder Brian Acton and their 55 employees were also granted restricted stock worth $3 billion that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

Koum said that he didn't expect that WhatsApp's staff would grow in number very much, saying that "we want to operate as a startup."

Relatively unknown until now in the U.S., WhatsApp is popular in other countries, both in Europe and in emerging economies. The Mountain View, California, startup already has almost twice as many users as the better known short messaging service, Twitter.

WhatsApp has 465 million monthly users and 330 daily users, according to Koum, and costs users $1 a year after a first free year.

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press contributed.

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