WhatsApp’s multi-device feature on Apple’s iMessage can teach you some new tricks

The secure WhatsApp logo for encrypted messaging on a smartphone.  The background is also the WhatsApp logo.

WhatsApp’s new multi-device features are rolling out to public release.

James Martin / CNET

Your phone does not need to be on to access texts on WhatsApp. Thanks to the new Linked Devices feature for the web and desktop app, Previously in beta And rolling it out to the public over the next several months, you can get faster access to conversations from almost any computer or tablet you choose, while maintaining much of the encryption and security for which the app is known. WhatsApps’ latest feature creates a cross-platform texting experience that reminds me of using iMessage across Mac and iPhone — but without having to get attached to just Apple devices.

To be clear, WhatsApp desktop apps are nothing new. However, they previously required a stable connection to your phone for it to work. If your phone is temporarily turned off or lost, you will not be able to access your messages at all. Other meta-owned services like Messenger don’t have this limitation, but at the expense of your privacy to not turn on end-to-end encryption by default.

WhatsApp now lets you choose up to four devices other than your phone that can send and receive WhatsApp messages. You can set up these devices by scanning a QR code generated on the WhatsApp website or desktop app using the WhatsApp app on your phone, after which they are listed as “associated devices” in your account. From that point on, that browser or desktop app will be able to access your WhatsApp texts regardless of whether your phone is on or off. In addition to this flexibility, I’ve also found that WhatsApp simply runs faster across the devices I tested, which include my Mac, Chromebook, and iPad.

I wouldn’t call multi-device WhatsApp perfect just yet, and other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram offer similar solutions, so let’s move on to some additional details and outputs for setting up multiple devices for WhatsApp.

whatsapp-multidevice.png

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

The WhatsApp

Works on almost any device, but not nearly every feature

The best part about the new multi-device WhatsApp launch is the speed. As I explained earlier, I can move back and forth between different devices across many operating systems, and keep up with quick group chats or text messages seamlessly. However, some features such as video and audio calls only work on WhatsApp, Windows, macOS, and mobile apps. The web version I’m using on my Chromebook and iPad can’t access these connectivity features.

You can access the associated devices under WhatsApp settings.

Shot by Mike Sorrentino/CNET

WhatsApp also clarifies other deletions that linked devices don’t support yet, which includes deleting or deleting chats from a linked device if you’re using WhatsApp on an iPhone and viewing the live location.

And while the linked device won’t need a connection to your phone, the new WhatsApp feature still requires a phone in order to get started. During setup, your phone will send to your device a copy of your most recent message history.

Linked devices also depend on your phone using WhatsApp to stay signed in. If you haven’t signed in to WhatsApp for 14 days from your phone – whether you’ve lost the phone or maybe you only use WhatsApp occasionally for specific contacts – all linked devices will be logged out.

I have also found that one can inadvertently fill the limit of their linked devices quickly. If you use WhatsApp desktop and WhatsApp web on the same computer, WhatsApp will see it as two devices. If you clear the cache on your web browser and then log back into WhatsApp on that web browser, it will also appear as a new associated device. It’s very easy to remove associated devices from your settings, but it helps that some devices are managed faster than you might expect.

Also at the moment, smartwatches cannot be a linked device, and WhatsApp does not offer an Apple Watch app. I find it very easy to use WhatsApp from the Apple Watch by replying to notifications, but you can’t start new messages that way. I’m aware of third-party Apple Watch apps in the App Store that unofficially integrate with WhatsApp, but I’d be careful about providing additional third-party access to that.

Now can every text messaging service copy this, please?

As I mentioned before, the multi-device version of WhatsApp isn’t particularly new, but there is plenty of room for other text messaging apps to improve their services in this cross-platform direction. Signal, whose encryption protocol is used by WhatsApp, offers multi-device texting through apps on mobile, desktop, and iPad, but it doesn’t currently support the web version for platforms where you don’t build an app. Signal also doesn’t provide cloud backups of your texts, keeping your messages on the same devices. Signal offers instructions on how to back up and restore messages, with a process that includes transferring your text messages directly from phone to phone.

The Android Messages app offers encryption for texts sent via RCS, and it has a web version – but this web version relies on syncing directly to a phone similar to how the previous version of WhatsApp works.

Apple iMessage works seamlessly across MacBooks, iPad tablets, Apple Watch, and iPhone — including encrypted texts and partially encrypted backups. Flexibility to move between these devices has always been a high point of its iMessage service. However, it is increasingly common for someone to use an iPhone but probably own a Windows PC who can’t access iMessage. or a Chromebook. or an Android tablet. I wouldn’t go into the gated iMessage garden here, but when other competitors offer services that cater to customers across platforms while maintaining encryption, it becomes increasingly noticeable when they don’t.

Cryptography in text messaging apps is particularly relevant after the European Union recently approved – but not yet adopted – the Digital Markets Lawwhich is aimed in part at asking pioneers in the messaging space like Apple and Meta to allow interoperability. The rules are very new It aims to provide a more equal playing field for newer services. Although well-intentioned, it also creates a situation where tech companies may need to work out how to allow interoperability while also preserving the privacy of their customers.


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