WhatsApp is about to change. The change will be big and far-reaching as it will allow users to send messages from other messaging apps and see them arrive on their WhatsApp. How cool is that?
February 10 update below. This post was first published on February 8, 2024.
Last September, European Union lawmakers designated Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, as what they call a gatekeeper company and required it to open its services to others after six months, that is, in March of this year. This is part of the same Digital Markets Act that will see Apple open the iPhone to EU users, but it looks like the WhatsApp changes will also apply outside of Europe.
As reported by the estimable Matt Burgess in cablingWhatsApp has only been partially swayed for this move, as it has been working to open things up for about two years.
If you’re like me, you spend more time than you’d like trying to remember whether that important message arrived via iMessage, WhatsApp, or Messenger, for example. The new system is intended to overcome this annoying circumstance by allowing people to send you messages on WhatsApp from another application.
The change will mean that those other apps will be able to attach to WhatsApp to allow people to chat between apps without denigrating the end-to-end encryption that exists.
This interoperability will begin with text messages, images, voice messages, videos and file transfers. Group calls and chats will come later, maybe even years later.
cabling quotes Dick Brouwer, director of engineering at WhatsApp, who points out that a fundamental requirement is that users choose to subscribe. “I can choose whether or not I want to participate in the exchange of messages with third parties,” explains Brouwer. “This is important because it could be a big source of spam and scams.”
If you choose to subscribe, you’ll see messages from other apps in a separate section that will appear at the top of your inbox, because “these networks are very different,” says Brouwer.
In a sense, it’s a logical extension of what made WhatsApp so popular, especially in Europe: it’s platform agnostic. So you never have to worry if your friends had an iPhone or Android phone: WhatsApp could communicate with them.
Now you should be able to communicate with your friends or family without even knowing if their preferred app is Signal, Telegram or iMessage and without the need to download all the apps.
Of course, different standards make this more complicated, so there will be issues to work out in terms of encryption protocols. Meta would prefer that other applications also use the signal encryption protocol it uses.
“We believe the best way to deliver this approach is through a solution based on WhatsApp’s existing client-server architecture,” says Brouwer.
It’s still unclear which businesses will actually connect to WhatsApp, but the fact that it’s about to become a possibility is very welcome.
February 10 update. There have been many reactions to the upcoming plan to open WhatsApp so that messages from other messaging services can appear. And rightly so, it’s a cool update. As TechRadar points out, it’s a move that is not without setbacks. The site says of the change: “It’s never easy.” He continues: “The next hurdle in the way is that your WhatsApp chats and third-party app chats won’t be able to mix in one inbox; However, if you opt for cross-app messaging, your third-party conversations will. “They will be placed in a separate “third-party chats” inbox, which means a few extra taps are required to open them.”
And he notes that it seems likely that Apple will not take advantage of the opportunity to mix its iMessage system with WhatsApp, “given that Apple has worked to kill off similar initiatives in the past, such as Beeper Mini.” I agree with that.
TechRadar concludes: Interoperability between chat services is coming, but it will likely be some time before other services join the Meta platforms after they launch, and it may not be as seamless as we hoped.”
There is still a lot to learn with this new capability. Companies that want to participate must sign an agreement with Meta, and the details of said agreement are not public. And, as mentioned above, it’s unclear which services (if any) will want to take advantage of this level of interoperability. This will again depend on the contract, but also on whether Telegram, Viber and others want their messages to reach someone else’s system. Let’s hope they do, as it will probably be a plus for the consumer.
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