5 exciting features users can expect on WhatsApp in 2021

1. Multi-device support

In a few days, it will be exactly 5 years since WhatsApp debuted WhatsApp Web, its one-footed entry into the “multi-device” support arena. Seeing as it is that WhatsApp Web is simply a mirror of the smartphone app and the same mechanism has been applied on the so-called WhatsApp desktop apps, there remains a gap to be filled. Especially for those of us who get to use other messenger apps like Telegram across multiple devices without any limitations whatsoever.

I mean, I still want to access my chats wherever I am even if my main phone isn’t in my vicinity and the mirroring aspect of WhatsApp Web/Desktop is extremely limiting even if the intention is to maintain the security and integrity of my conversations (I am not sharing nuclear launch codes over there and I already risk it all elsewhere).

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For a long time, news has filtered out of Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company, that the company is working on bring multi-device support to the popular messaging. Many years in the making, given how many times this has shown up over the past about 2 years, 2021 is likely the year we finally see it make the trip from the kitchen to where we are all seated. It’s not out of the ordinary to see Facebook test new WhatsApp features for so long and multi-device support is now within that timeline of features that are long overdue to see the light of day. Already, news from the few days of the start of the year is promising.

2. Read “it” later

A read it later feature in WhatsApp wasn’t top of my head given that we have already had the starred messages function for a while now and, recently, we’ve had access to Archived Chats as well.

However, word on the street (according to reliable WhatsApp watcher WABetaInfo) is that Archived Chats will be “upgraded” and replaced with a Read Later feature.

As the name specifies, the feature will let users flag chats for accessing later. What will be different/upgraded from the current Archived Chats feature? Well, for a start, flagging a chat thread for reading later won’t have that conversation show up in the main activity feed when there are new developments (your crush who never responded to your risky text finally ran out of options and replied after a year or so) as is the case currently if one chooses to do so since it is a separate setting in the Read Later feature that many have christened “Vacation mode”.

How it will work if it sees the light of day? There will be a persistent cell at the top of the chat list so that one can easily see all the chats they’ve “archived”. Seeing as it is that turning on “Vacation mode” will do away with notifications as well, I can’t help but think that this might be something worth trying out for those of us that have struggled with the consistency of the mute feature on WhatsApp. No? Fingers crossed that WhatsApp will keep everything when one restores their messages whilst switching devices.

3. Mute video

Outed back in November, the mute video feature will allow users to send videos to other WhatsApp users in mute by default with the recipients being presented with a small sound icon to unmute. Kind of like we already see in “stories” in various apps.

It may look and sound like a small thing but no one likes being caught unawares by the many embarrassing jokes our friends keep forwarding and having everything mute until unmuted might be a good step forward.

4. Desktop/web voice and video calling

2020 was the year of video calling. While 2021 still has a lot of runway to grow its own personality and be known for something else, it is the year that the long-touted “new normal” really becomes normal. That, in essence, means video calls and more video calls. WhatsApp doesn’t want to be left out of the party, too.

Having doubled down on its video offering on mobile as soon as stay-at-home/work-from-home orders were issued early last year, WhatsApp is going the extra mile and offering the video calling feature on the web for those using WhatsApp Web as well as on the various desktop apps on platforms like Windows and Mac (which are essentially just WhatsApp Web with nice wrappers).

Unlike the above features which may or may not see the light of day this year or any time soon for that matter, it is just a matter of when not if, it rolls out to the public. The feature is already in beta and rolling out slowly, according to WABetaInfo, and nothing in the current happenings around the world would suggest that the feature gets a last-minute hold decision (even before we factor in the record-breaking usage on New Year’s Day). Not when Facebook has already done this on its other messaging apps already and given that its approach lately has been to do the same thing over and over again on all its apps, this is a no-brainer.

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5. Highly structured messages – from bot interactions

That WhatsApp has leapfrogged rival Telegram despite remaining popular is not a secret. However, one by one, many of the features that have made many of us love Telegram over the years have been slowly making their way to Facebook’s platform.

The latest? A super combination of WhatsApp’s superior business tools and the bots concept we may be familiar with either from Telegram or from another Facebook property, Messenger, that has shown up randomly in various parts of the world over the last few weeks, from India to Latin America where the messaging app reigns supreme. What we are calling highly structured messages.

These are no ordinary text/multimedia chats. Instead, they are interactive in-chat tabs that extend various in-app functionalities. A departure from what we have with Safaricom’s Zuri chatbot, for instance, where users have to reply with numbers like a normal USSD interaction. A lot of the development and rollout of highly structured messages will be dependent on the users like service providers being able to develop their products around whatever Facebook has availed but 2021 is the year we see them go mainstream and, in our case in Kenya, become visible and more prevalent.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com