After a succession of recent updates, WhatsApp is now reportedly testing its most significant update for some considerable time. In the last few weeks, we have seen improvements to WhatsApp’s group video chats, while QR codes and encrypted backups are in beta. But this next update is the most radical, stretching the bounds of end-to-end encryption and forcing decisions as to how WhatsApp handles the secure storage of our message and media histories. In the world of multiple devices and applications working seamlessly cross-platform, this will all be critical.
WhatsApp has led the popular messaging world for a decade now. It has built its staggering install base on simplicity and security. The app was the first “over the top” messaging platform that pulled texting away from the networks to cross-platform apps. Addressing the fragmented clunkiness and cost of SMS and the proprietary limitations of BBM, WhatsApp defined modern messaging.
But the world is changing and WhatsApp senses that. Most of us now run multiple messaging platforms on our phones. The notifications on our mobile devices mean we can manage all this with ease. While there are specialist alternatives, the likes of Signal, Telegram and Wickr, the real threat to WhatsApp’s dominance comes from its own Facebook stablemate Messenger, Apple’s iMessage, and the new Rich Communication Services (RCS) upgrade to ubiquitous SMS.
Those planning WhatsApp’s future—when not focusing on keeping Facebook at bay—are clearly aware of the risk to its dominance from the development of these other options, especially the likes of RCS and iMessage that can be built into the very operating systems of the phones on which they’re installed. The issue with those other options, of course, is the lack of interoperability between Android and iOS without reverting to the insecure clunkiness of SMS. The risk for WhatsApp, is that a rich, secure, updated SMS platform eventually resolves this.
The issue with WhatsApp, meanwhile, is its frustrating cross-platform limitations. Yes, there is a web viewed and various desktop front-ends, but when compared to the smooth running of Signal or Apple’s user-first iMessage, it falls totally flat. There is no iPad app, for example, no ability to run seamlessly on a tablet. And now, with Signal trying to shift from secure specialist to mainstream alternative, with Apple playing with iMessage functionality—editing sent texts and better desktop options, for example—WhatsApp needs to act.