WhatsApp expands to the desktop

The messaging service with more than 1 billion active users worldwide is now available for laptops and desktops, likely posing a threat to other chatting apps.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
A Whatsapp App logo is seen behind a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone that is logged on to Facebook in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, February 20, 2014

WhatsApp, the popular smartphone messaging service owned by Facebook, is coming to a computer near you.

The company has released a standalone app for Windows 8 and above, and for Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) and above.

WhatsApp first moved from mobile to computers with WhatsApp Web in January 2015, but the new stand alone app comes with a few new features, including desktop notifications, keyboard shortcuts, and voice dictation.

To activate the desktop app, users need to scan a QR code using WhatsApp on their mobile phones. The app will automatically sync messages, pictures, and other files from the mobile app. The desktop app will thus mirror everything on the phone, possibly including the end-to-end encryption the company announced last month.

WhatsApp has boomed worldwide, and now commands more than 1 billion active users, up from 700 million in January 2015.

The push to desktop will make WhatsApp one of the few messaging services that allows users to continue their phone conversations on their computers. Apple's iMessage offers that feature, but only for iOS users. Facebook Messenger and Skype chat also offer the ability to continue phone conversations on computers.

WhatsApp could pose a threat to Skype, which currently boasts 600 million active users. But Skype has an advantage with its video and voice calling features that WhatsApp's desktop app doesn't have, though reported that WhatsApp may soon launch video calling features.

Though the messaging service is more popular for social interactions than business communication, the latest launch may help WhatsApp appeal to businesses, a market currently commanded by Slack. As Forbes reported, politicians in India are already using the app to conduct their campaigns. Slack has increasing become popular in business environments, leading others to conclude that the app is eliminating the need for e-mail. Currently Slack has more than 2.7 million daily active users including 800,000 paid accounts. An average user spends about 10 hours per weekday on the messaging app, according to Tech Crunch. WhatsApp may have an edge on Slack now that its platform will be available on both mobile phones and computers.

But others doubt whether businesses would prefer Slack over WhatsApp. As Parmy Olson notes on Forbes, "Slack retains a big advantage over WhatsApp when it comes to enterprise use, in that there's little risk of enterprise users mixing up their use of Slack at the office with personal communications, as they might do with WhatsApp."

WhatsApp recently came under scrutiny in Brazil for refusing to provide message encryption of some users who were under criminal investigation. A judge issued a 72-hour ban on the service, which was lifted by another judge 24 hours later. The messaging service also underwent a temporary ban last December, over a separate criminal investigation.

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