Israeli start-up Rounds, already a social networking powerhouse with 11 million people using its free app, has introduced a video chat component which, the company believes, could turn it into the next WhatsApp — setting a high goal to unseat the worldwide chat champ.
Like WhatsApp, Rounds lets you set up chat groups with friends, allowing any member of the group to communicate with others at the same time, or individually — but with Rounds, users get to see their friends. The app utilizes not only text, but voice and video as well.
Earlier this year, Rounds partnered with another Israeli start-up, called Vidyo, which provided the Rounds app with video capabilities. So Rounds offers users WhatsApp-style chat, messaging, and phone calls, all with HD-quality video, allowing users to share videos, music, and other multimedia content.
Until now, Rounds users were required to be friends in order to use the app to call each other, but the new video edition of that app allows participants from any social network to join their groups, using a special “invite code” created for each group, thus ensuring privacy while opening the chat to as many people as possible, Rounds said in a statement. There is no limitation on how many participants can be in each group and once a group member shouts-out to everyone, the first 12 to enter the call can instantly video chat. This makes Rounds the first app to allow multi-app and multi-platform participation, with users from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks able to access Rounds video chats.
In addition, the app also features Skype-style audio and video phone calling, allowing users to call friends, while still being able to switch instantly from audio to video. This feature, “along with the existing text messaging, video chatting and the ability to enjoy social activities, games and content together, is what sets Rounds apart and offers users a real true-to-life experience, allowing users the flexibility of a text-only, audio, or multimedia video experience,” said Dany Fishel, Rounds co-founder and CEO.
Rounds, established in 2008, has gone through several incarnations. Originally aimed at the Facebook crowd, the app had to drop a “Meet New People” feature that allowed all Rounds users — many of them teens — to instantly connect with other Rounds users. Critics said that the feature could compromise the safety of teen users, so Rounds deleted it, requiring prior Facebook friendship in order to connect via the app. With the new edition, the feature is back, at least to some extent, as users can connect to anyone as long as they send them a special code, which they enter in order to join a chat group.
Rounds has a long way to go before it catches up to WhatsApp, which has half a billion users, but Fishel is hopeful. “Instead of messaging back and forth on WhatsApp, users can now instantly chat live with their groups of friends with a simple tap of a button,” he said. “While there are several video communication apps out there, we believe the ability to chat, and connect over content and shared experiences with multiple friends at a time, is a much needed and missing utility. We’ve built a thrilling and engaging product that we are very proud of, one that is changing the way friends connect and communicate.”