WhatsApp’s huge, game-changing upgrade leaked a week ago. Now it has suddenly been confirmed, and we know exactly what its 2 billion users can expect.
As I reported last month, WhatsApp is preparing to make its biggest ever change, and open itself up to messages from other platforms. Last month this was just a leak, with WABetaInfo having examined beta code. Now, though, in an unusual step, WhatsApp has confirmed not only that it’s coming, but that it’s been in the works for a year.
The backdrop is Europe’s Digital Markets Act, of course, and the need for so-called gatekeeper companies to open up their so-called gateway platforms to competition. Nowhere is this going to make more of an impact than messaging.
Last month’s leak exposed WhatsApp’s approach, to organize third-party messages into a separate category. That has now been confirmed. As has the real challenge, maintaining privacy and security—which is WhatsApp’s self-styled USP—when enabling other platforms to API directly into its platform.
“There’s real tension between offering an easy way to offer this interoperability to third parties whilst at the same time preserving the WhatsApp privacy, security, and integrity bar,” WhatsApp’s Dick Brouwer told Wired this week. “I think we’re pretty happy with where we’ve landed.”
The reality of WhatsApp opening up is just as big a change as its introduction of end-to-end encryption—which it essentially popularized and democratized, and anything it has done since. Users will have to opt in to allow this integration. to work, and there will be limitations on which platforms will be allowed to play.
Initial deployments will focus on secure 1:1 text and media messaging, with group messaging some time down the road. There’s very little chance this opening up will extend to voice and video calls, but this is all game-changing, so who knows.
WhatsApp will be one of—if not the—key influencer of how this works in practice, given its two-billion-plus users, and so will drive others to adopt their approach. “We think that the best way to deliver this approach is through a solution that is built on WhatsApp’s existing client-server architecture,” engineering director Brouwer told Wired. “This effectively means that the approach we’re trying to take is for WhatsApp to document our client-server protocol and letting third-party clients connect directly to our infrastructure and exchange messages with WhatsApp clients.”
It will help that WhatsApp uses a version of Signal’s open-source encryption protocol, which is also used by the likes of Google Messages, Facebook Messenger and Signal itself. But not by Apple within iMessage. That doesn’t mean this protocol will be a prerequisite, as to mandate it would seem to breach the new rules. But it should certainly make it faster and easier for counterparts to accredit each other’s security.
All told, this year promises more revolution for messaging than the evolution we’ve seen in recent years. The other major headline update will be Apple’s RCS deployment, likely to launch sometime around the iOS 18 release in the fall. But that already seems likely to fall short of the security requirements that this DMA-driven open messaging driving WhatsApp’s changes.
But while iMessage and RCS and how that works or doesn’t work with Google Messages will drive lots of speculation when iOS 18 betas start to appear, what we know now is that WhatsApp has already raised the bar. As such, my advice for users to switch from iMessage to WhatsApp for everyday messaging doesn’t change.