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WhatsApp’s multi-device feature can teach Apple iMessage a few new tricks

WhatsApp logo of a secure encrypted message on your smartphone.  The WhatsApp logo is also the background.

New WhatsApp features across multiple devices are being released to the public.

James Martin / topwatchbest

Your phone doesn’t need to be running to access SMS on WhatsApp. With the new Connected Devices feature in the web and desktop app, previously in beta and made available to the public in the next few months, you can access chats faster from almost any computer or tablet of your choice while maintaining most of the encryption and security the app is known for. WhatsApp’s latest feature creates a cross-platform text experience that reminds me to use iMessage on Mac and iPhone – but without having to be stuck on Apple devices only.

To be clear, WhatsApp desktop applications are not new. However, previously they required a permanent connection to the phone in order for them to function. If your phone was turned off or temporarily lost, you basically had no access to your texts. Other Meta-owned services, such as Messenger, do not have this limitation, but at the expense of user privacy, end-to-end encryption is not enabled by default.

WhatsApp now allows you to choose as many as four devices in addition to your phone that can send and receive WhatsApp messages. You set up these devices by scanning the QR code generated on the WhatsApp website or desktop application with the WhatsApp application on your phone, and then they appear as “Connected devices” in your account. From then on, this browser or desktop app will be able to access your WhatsApp texts whether or not your phone is nearby. In addition to this flexibility, I’ve also found that WhatsApp just starts up much faster on the devices I tested, including my working Mac, Chromebook, and iPad.

I wouldn’t call WhatsApp’s multi-device system perfect yet, and other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram offer similar solutions, so let’s take a look at a few more ins and outs for specific WhatsApp multi-device setup.

whatsapp-multidevice.png

When your WhatsApp account receives the new connected devices feature, you will receive a message similar to this one.

WhatsApp

Works on almost any device, but not every feature

The best part about the new launch of WhatsApp on multiple devices is speed. As I mentioned before, I can switch between different devices on several operating systems and keep up with group chats or quick text messages seamlessly. However, some features, such as video and voice calling, only work on Windows, macOS, and WhatsApp mobile apps. The web version that I use on my Chromebook and iPad does not have access to these connection features.

You can access connected devices in WhatsApp settings.

Screenshot by Mike Sorrentino / topwatchbest

WhatsApp also identifies other omissions that the connected devices do not yet support, including clearing or deleting chats from the connected device if you are using WhatsApp on an iPhone and viewing the live location.

And while the connected device won’t require a phone connection, the new WhatsApp feature still requires a phone to start. During setup, the phone will send a copy of the latest message history to the device.

Connected devices also use WhatsApp to stay logged in. – all connected devices will be logged out.

I also found that you can inadvertently fill the connected device limit quickly. If you use the WhatsApp desktop app and WhatsApp for the web on the same computer, WhatsApp will see it as two devices. If you clear your cache in your web browser and then log back into WhatsApp in that browser, it will also appear as a new connected device. It’s fairly easy to remove linked devices from your settings, but it’s worth making some device management features appear faster than you might expect.

Also, for now, smartwatches cannot be a connected device, and WhatsApp does not offer the Apple Watch app. I find it quite easy to use WhatsApp from your Apple Watch responding to notifications, but you cannot start new messages using this method. I know about third-party Apple Watch apps in the App Store that integrate unofficially with WhatsApp, but I’d be careful about providing additional access to this.

Now, can any SMS service copy this?

As I mentioned before, the multi-device version of WhatsApp isn’t particularly new, but there is plenty of room for other SMS messaging apps to improve their services in this cross-platform direction. Signal, whose encryption protocol WhatsApp uses, offers multi-device text messaging via mobile, desktop, and iPad apps, but currently doesn’t support the web version for platforms where it doesn’t develop an app. Signal also doesn’t offer cloud backups of your texts, keeping your messages on the devices themselves. Signal offers instructions on how to: backup and restore messageswith the process of direct text messaging from phone to phone.

The Android Messages app offers encryption of texts sent by RCS and has a web version – but this web version relies on syncing directly to your phone, much like the previous version of WhatsApp works.

Apple iMessage works seamlessly on MacBooks, iPad tablets, Apple Watch and iPhone – including encrypted texts and partial backup encryption. The flexibility to navigate between these devices has always been the highlight of iMessage. Still, someone is using an iPhone more and more, but maybe they have a Windows computer that can’t access iMessage. Or a Chromebook. Or an Android tablet. I will not go in iMessage brick garden rim here, but when other rivals offer services that satisfy customers across platforms while maintaining encryption, it becomes more and more noticeable when we don’t.

Encryption in text messaging applications is particularly relevant after the European Union recently approved – but not yet adopted – Act on digital marketspartly to enable interoperability from messaging leaders such as Apple and Meta. The rules are very new and are designed to provide a more level playing field for newer services. In spite of good intentions, it also creates a situation where tech companies may be forced to tackle interoperability issues while protecting the privacy of their customers.


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