While on the surface WhatsApp remains the king of the instant messaging front, beneath the surface there are some worrying signs for Facebook’s flagship platform.
With its two billion users, WhatsApp seems unstoppable, but it has some weaknesses in its functionality—in the way it works.
So, what are those functionality weaknesses? Well, there’s the continued lack of genuine support for multiple devices—the option to link apps on your phone, tablet and PC to a single account.
Then there’s the serious flaw in its backup option, which is required to transfer message history to a new phone. Those back-ups fall outside WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption—and that’s a critical issue.
WhatsApp voice and video calling are excellent: fully encrypted, perfectly integrated with its messaging, single-click calls for the groups we use daily.
But those calls—video or voice—are constrained to our smallest screen devices. And that just doesn’t work anymore. WhatsApp knows this because multiple linked devices and desktop calling are reportedly in the works.
But, in the meantime, we’re turning to the competition.
All of which makes WhatsApp’s much smaller, but much more exciting, upstart rival Signal a potential giant killer in the space. Signal is the modern-day messaging disruptor, seeking to repeat the trick WhatsApp itself carried out all those years ago, before the Facebook acquisition.
Signal was designed to put security first.
WhatsApp actually uses a tweaked version of the Signal protocol itself. And historically this approach made for a clunky Signal user experience. But all that’s now changing. Signal is on a mission to take on the mainstream. And if you haven’t tried the app yet, you really should.
Signal has been beta-testing voice and video calls from its brilliant desktop app. This is a genuine app, not the web-based smartphone scraper offered by WhatsApp. Signal also offers a seamless iPad app. There’s no need to keep your smartphone switched on or connected to access Signal from other devices.
This is much more important than it may sound. It emphasises the multiple encrypted endpoints available in Signal, it showcases convergence—playing a convenience card to the new work from home workforce.
There may not be backups with Signal, but these other encrypted instances provide resilience in case you lose your phone. And the platform appears flexible and nimble in contrast to WhatsApp. You’ll struggle to find a tech or security reporter recommending WhatsApp over Signal these days.
The more material factor, though, is what happens next. Facebook is caught between a rock and a hard place with WhatsApp.
Tempted to introduce new monetisation and advertising options, it knows that a user backlash will follow any overstep. And the likes of Signal and Telegram are watching and waiting. Signal is fast approaching the critical mass required to be a viable alternative for any WhatsApp exodus.