WhatsApp on Web browser: Will it successfully challenge Hangouts, Skype and others?

WhatsApp, the popular instant messaging app, is now available on the Chrome web-browser.

WhatsApp, the popular instant messaging app, is now available on the Chrome web browser. For starters, you need to ensure that you are using the Chrome web browser. After that you need to scan the QR code and follow the instructions specific to your OS. The web-version of WhatsApp is currently available on Android, BlackBerry, BlackBerry 10 OS, Nokia S60, and Windows Phone. Apple's iPhone users have been left out "due to platform limitations", although if that will change soon remains to be seen.

Do note that you'll need to have the latest update of WhatsApp for this work, and a QR scanner app on your smartphone as well. Since the web-app is mirroring the one on your phone, keep your device connected to Wi-Fi at all times, else your data bill will go through the roof. You can also un-click the option that says keep me signed in at all times, in order to ensure that preserve your data.

Also the WhatsApp Web menu in the smartphone app will let you log out of the desktop/PC version of the app. Once you do that, you'll need to scan the code again to log back in -- which can get tiresome at times.

There's no doubt that the Facebook-owned app is trying to catch up with other popular messaging apps like iMessage, Viber, Line, Telegram, WeChat etc all of which already offer a PC/Desktop mode. Except that unlike most other apps, which have a variety of options for the desktop user, WhatsApp has restricted itself to Chrome and hasn't actually created a specific app for each OS or even browser.

So where, the idea of increasing user base is concerned, it doesn't really work, because only those with the app already installed in their smartphone can access it.

Being able to carry conversations across platforms is certainly an aspect that messengers can't do without these days. It will also help WhatsApp rival the likes of Google Hangouts, which is at present probably the best alternative cross-platform messaging service. Hangouts started out as primarily a desktop messenger and has now worked it's way into the mobile universe while also taking potshots at Skype. However while on Google Hangsouts you're likely to be friends with people who have access to your email, on WhatsApp your contacts are mostly going to be people with whom you have shared phone numbers. It will however take your Facebook contacts on Android and iOS if you have given the app permission to do so.

WhatsApp and the others are trying to do the exact opposite -- they are trying to work their way in from mobile. Then, of course, the WhatsApp web browser evolution will pose some security issues.

For instance, in case of Telegram, we installed the app on a Mac and the app gave sent a message to the mobile version stating that someone had accessed the account on a different IP. Telegram warns the user that if they weren't ones who accessed it, then they can simply go and terminate the session in the privacy and security settings.

WhatsApp thankfully does allow users to terminate a desktop session from the smartphone app, but no alert is sent out when the desktop login in takes place. An Alert like the one Telegram sends would be helpful for the less tech-savy users. The worry is that if you lose your smartphone, or leave it unattended for a few seconds, someone else could scan the code and log in via your account on a desktop, without you getting to know till later.

But given that WhatsApp has over 700 million users, there is some advantage in getting this app on your desktop.  If you're working in office, you can sync your WhatsApp to the desktop and then you don't have to keep checking your smartphone for a new message and you have access to a whole new social circle. It also means faster typing because you have a keyboard and are free from your touchscreen.

WhatsApp for web might work great for say a news organisation, where reporters might often just WhatsApp details to their team members in office. On the other hand, IT services might not approve of something like this, given that it does pose a security issue.

Let's not forget that spam messages on WhatsApp or pornographic links or videos with viruses tend to get forwarded quite a lot on the app. Naturally no office would want these links to be opened on official computers as they pose a threat to the networks, so there's a good chance that many companies might just ban the link in the first place. Plus having WhatsApp on office computers might actually be seen as affecting productivity, so that's another reason for it get to banned.

Interestingly, BlackBerry has tried something like this with the BlackBerry Blend, which users can download on their PCs and Macs to sync contents from their smartphone onto their PC and tablet as well. Blend keeps a track of BBM messages, important files, calendar syncing and even the Corporate Intranet. According to the company, "if your BlackBerry smartphone is connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, you can access your company’s intranet through a work browser on your computer without having to be logged in to your company’s network." For corporate users, whose work involves privacy and heavy security, Blend might actually make more sense.

WhatsApp however is only offering syncing on the desktop and PC version. The link doesn't work on the tablet version of Chrome for now. Given how basic the functionality of Whatsapp on web is, it is appears to be the more initial phase of the product. How WhatsApp on web does will depend on how quickly it expands and gets new features. Till then, it's just another alternative to the many option that are available already.

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