WhatsApp for iOS was updated earlier this week with the long-awaited ability to preview media (pictures and animated GIFs) using rich notifications on iOS. As you can see in the screenshots below, this new feature allows you to expand a notification and preview its embedded image attachment without having to open the app and before composing a reply from the notification itself.
As a heavy user of WhatsApp (it’s my second most used social/communication app, second only to iMessage), this feature was perhaps the single most important option I was hoping the app would eventually adopt. The entire flow of previewing and responding to messages that contain pictures is so much better now. Of course, I’m also waiting for an iPad version of WhatsApp.
For context, the rich notification API for media previews was introduced with iOS 10 in 2016. Here’s to hoping it won’t take the WhatsApp team until 2020 to implement Siri shortcuts.
There are two iOS 10 features I wish I could have covered with more examples in my review: SiriKit and CallKit. It was tricky to get my hands on Siri-enabled apps this summer (I only tested one); I couldn’t try any CallKit app.
WhatsApp didn’t miss the opportunity to support the latest version of iOS with new features ready at launch this time. With an update released today, WhatsApp has brought Siri integration to send messages and CallKit support to elevate VoIP calls to a native experience on iOS 10.
I’ve been playing with both features tonight, and they work just as well as Apple advertised. You can ask Siri to send messages on WhatsApp and it’ll show you a preview of the message with WhatsApp’s UI before sending it. It’s fast and it works from anywhere. Same for CallKit: WhatsApp calls take over the Home screen and Lock screen with the regular interface of phone calls on the iPhone – they’re not basic push notifications anymore.
You can even add a button to start a WhatsApp call to a person’s contact card (try to long-tap the ‘Call’ button and you’ll see) or to your Phone’s Favorites. WhatsApp calls feel like part of iOS now thanks to CallKit and Intents – and other VoIP services can take advantage of the framework, too.
I had a rough idea of how Siri would work in everyday scenarios (I think it’s going to be a great addition to messaging apps on iOS), but I’ve been genuinely impressed by CallKit and contact extensibility so far.
WhatsApp has announced today they’re launching desktop apps for Windows and OS X. From the WhatsApp blog:
Today we’re introducing a desktop app so you have a new way to stay in touch anytime and anywhere - whether on your phone or computer at home or work. Like WhatsApp Web, our desktop app is simply an extension of your phone: the app mirrors conversations and messages from your mobile device.
The new desktop app is available for Windows 8+ and Mac OS 10.9+ and is synced with WhatsApp on your mobile device. Because the app runs natively on your desktop, you’ll have support for native desktop notifications, better keyboard shortcuts, and more.
Note how WhatsApp continues to use apps for other platforms as extensions of the phone app – the Mac app is, effectively, an interactive display for the WhatsApp database stored on your mobile device.
Side note: I’ve used WhatsApp Web on my iPad, and it works okay if you request a desktop site in Safari or use something like iCab to permanently change the browser’s user agent.
WhatsApp announced earlier today that it would be removing its annual subscription fee (US$0.99 per year, after the first year). From Re/code’s report of the announcement:
“It really doesn’t work that well,” Koum [WhatsApp founder] said Monday, speaking at the DLD conference in Munich. He noted that while a buck a year might not sound like much, access to credit cards is not ubiquitous. “We just don’t want people to think at some point their communication to the world will be cut off.”
Until now, WhatsApp has been free for the first year and 99 cents for additional years. It will stop charging subscription fees immediately but it will likely be a few weeks before the payments infrastructure is completely out of all versions of the app. And, in case you were wondering, you won’t be able to get back your buck if you have already paid for this year.
WhatsApp will stay ad-free, and instead the company will begin testing new tools that will enable WhatsApp users to communicate with businesses and organizations. The WhatsApp blog post about this announcement gives the example of being able to communicate with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent. Which, as Re/code’s report points out, is a familiar strategy:
It’s the same idea behind Facebook Messenger, the company’s other standalone messaging service. With Messenger, Facebook already offers users the chance to chat with businesses, and it’s building out other features, like payments or the ability to hail a ride through Uber.