WhatsApp is about to change. The change will be big and far-reaching, allowing users to send messages from other messaging apps and see them arrive in your WhatsApp app. How cool is that?
February 11 update below. This post was first published on February 8, 2024.
Last September, EU lawmakers designated Meta, WhatsApp's parent company, as a so-called gatekeeping company, and required it to open up its services to others after six months, by March of this year. This is part of the same Digital Markets Act that will see Apple open up the iPhone to users in the EU, but it looks like WhatsApp's changes will apply outside Europe too.
As reported by the respected Matt Burgess in WiredWhatsApp was only partially convinced by the move, as it has been working on opening things up for about two years.
If you're like me, you're spending more time than you'd like trying to remember if that important message arrived via iMessage, WhatsApp, or Messenger, for example. The new system aims to overcome this annoying circumstance by allowing people to message you on WhatsApp from another application.
This change means that those other apps can link themselves to WhatsApp to allow people to chat across the apps without distorting the existing end-to-end encryption.
This interoperability will start with text messages, photos, voice messages, videos, and file transfers. Conference calls and chats will come later, perhaps years later.
Wired He quotes Dick Brewer, engineering director at WhatsApp, who points out that the prerequisite is for users to opt-in. “I can choose whether or not I want to participate in open messaging with third parties,” Brewer explains. “This is important, because it can be a huge source of spam and scams.”
If you subscribe, you'll see messages from other apps in a separate section that will appear at the top of your inbox, because “those networks are very different,” Brewer says.
In a sense, this is a logical extension of what has made WhatsApp so popular, especially in Europe: it's platform-agnostic. So, you never have to worry if your friends have an iPhone or Android phone, as WhatsApp can reach them.
Now, you should be able to reach your friends or family without knowing whether their preferred app is Signal, Telegram, or iMessage and without having to download all the apps.
Of course, different standards make this more complicated, so there will be difficulties to be resolved regarding encryption protocols. Meta prefers that the Signal encryption protocol, which it uses, be used by other applications as well.
“We believe the best way to deliver this approach is through a solution built on WhatsApp's existing client-server architecture,” says Brewer.
It's not yet clear which companies will actually connect to WhatsApp, but the fact that this is about to become a very welcome possibility.
Updated February 10. There has been a lot of backlash over the upcoming plan to open WhatsApp so that messages from other messaging services will appear. It really is a very nice update. As TechRadar noted, this is a move that is not without its drawbacks. “It's not easy at all,” the website says of change. “The next bump in the road is that WhatsApp chats and third-party app chats will no longer be able to mingle in one inbox. Instead, if you opt into cross-app messaging, your third-party chats will be able to be placed in a separate inbox. for “Third Party Chats” – which means there are a few extra clicks required to open them.
He points out that it seems likely that Apple won't jump at the opportunity to integrate its iMessage system with WhatsApp, “given that Apple has tried hard to kill off similar initiatives in the past — like the Beeper Mini.” I agree with that.
TechRadar concludes: Interoperability between chat services is coming but it will likely take some time for other services to join the Meta platforms after it goes live – and it may not look quite as seamless as we had hoped.
There is still a lot to learn with this new capability. Companies that want to participate will have to sign an agreement with Meta, the details of which are not public.
As mentioned above, it is not clear which services – if any – will want to benefit from this level of interoperability. This will again come down to the contract, but also whether Telegram, Viber and others want their messages to end up on someone else's system. Let's hope they do because it will likely be to the consumer's advantage.
Updated February 11. Obviously, one of the more difficult things to implement in messaging than other services that appear in WhatsApp is ensuring security and privacy. This is true, because these things are of the utmost importance and must be placed with great care.
It also emerged this week that WhatsApp is close to finalizing a previously announced feature: allowing users to set up a username.
This is important because it means you will no longer need to share your phone number with someone to be able to chat with them through the app.
according to WABetaInfowhich scrutinizes everything WhatsApp does with a level of forensic interest, the company went so far as to introduce a revised version of the verification process in the latest update in its TestFlight beta program.
Now we learn that the username must consist of certain characters, i.e. letters from A to Z and numbers from 0 to 9. Therefore, the username arrived at by WABetaInfo, wabetainfo_$test, is rejected for having wrong characters.
The verification process also verifies that the username is unique – well, that's obvious. As the site says, “This update will represent a major advance in user privacy and convenience. By offering usernames, WhatsApp not only enhances security by reducing the need to share personal phone numbers, but it also simplifies the process of communicating with others. With the introduction of usernames, users will feel more comfortable when starting conversations with new people, as they can communicate without revealing their phone number. Additionally, it is important to note that improving the validation process will ensure that usernames are unique and meet specific criteria to prevent duplication and maintain the integrity of the platform.
There is no specific time frame for when this useful update will be released, which will be very good along with the introduction of messaging from third-party apps. The fact that validation is being tested suggests sooner rather than later, but you never know.
I'll let you know when that major update goes live, but in the meantime, at the very least, you can always start selecting your desired username, so you'll be ready to pounce at the right moment.
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