WhatsApp: an exceptional product!

My thoughts on WhatsApp.

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whatsapp

WhatsApp stands out for me as I look back at all the products launched in the last decade. It has simplified communications for me in a way that it is difficult for me to comprehend communications without it.

WhatsApp is a phone number based, cross platform, instant communication mobile application. I am using the word ‘instant communication’ rather than ‘instant messaging’ because it allows for various modes of communication rather than just messaging. I love WhatsApp because it has made communication seamless for me with my family, friends and colleagues, individually and in a group.

There are certain aspects about WhatsApp which standout for me:

UI:

  • The interface is intuitive and the absence of advertisements right from its inception till date, adds to the appeal.
  • The interface supports text in italics, bold and strike through format: for italics use _ before and after the text to be italicized, for bold use * before and after the text to be bold and for strike through use ~ before and after the text to be struck.

User Experience:

  • It works for several modes: text messaging/voice calling/video calling and sharing of media files and documents.
  • It has a desktop application so that one does not have to keep getting back to one’s cell phone to send new messages or respond to messages.
  • One can also have a look at the media files and search for documents and links shared between oneself and friends making it easier to track in case you want to resurface a particular content later.
  • One can use @functionality in a group to address someone and can choose a specific message to reply
  • One can star messages in a conversation and search them later
  • It recently has added the ability to add notes, drawings and smileys on pictures before sending adding to the emotional appeal of the product
  • It provides ability to stream a part of the video, before downloading it completely
  • It directly adds contacts from the contact book, thus offering an ease in adding contacts
  • In a group it allows one to determine who has received and who has read one’s message. For checking, one has to long press the desired message and click on the i symbol above and it opens up the message with delivered to and read by details as explained in the picture below
    screenshot_20170130-083227

Security and Privacy:

  • It does not store data and the data flow is encrypted end to end assuring security.
  • It also facilitates account portability when one changes their phone number.
  • The read receipts functionality can be enabled providing user the provision to let his friends know that the message has been read and disabled to ensure privacy.

Requirements:

  • It works extremely fine in low data connectivity regions
  • One can backup their messages to the drive, thus ensuring low disk space usage on phone


There are certain areas wherein I would expect WhatsApp to improve as a product

Long Term:

WhatsApp events: WhatsApp should provide the functionality of creating events and gauging the interest of a group for the same.

Why is this essential:

  • Currently in a group it is very difficult to keep track of who all are coming.
  • It is cumbersome to count the +1s or yes’s to get a sense of how many people are coming.
  • The communications closer to the event timing between people who are going is agonizing for anyone in the group not going
  • Although not a primary reason, but GroupMe has a similar feature to help groups plan their events seamlessly

User experience:
As a group member, one can send an event invite with the name, place and time details. As soon as one does this a separate group gets created as an event group to this parent group. When someone in the parent group clicks on yes on the invite they get added to the event group. All communications related to the event happen in the event group. The event group gets deleted after 7 days of the event.

Edge case:
An edge case is what happens if one has first said yes, then wants to say no and then again say yes. The event can be said no to by exiting from the event group. In case one wants to go again, the events can be accessed from the parent group as one currently accesses media/document and links.

Communicating with businesses/service providers: WhatsApp is a communication app and the go to app for almost all kinds of personal communication. However, its usage for communicating with businesses is limited. I would have a feature where there would be a chat window “talk to businesses”. To start off this this can be used to communicate with bigger businesses but as the world becomes more digital in the long run, this can also be used to communicate with local service providers such as booking an appointment at the salon or booking an appointment with the local medical clinic etc.

Why is this essential:
This is essential so that WhatsApp can become the go to app for all the communication needs of a person.

User Experience:
The way it will be structured is that within the chat window “talk to business” one can search for preapproved partners or ask WhatsApp “WhatsApp can I speak to @Uber/Expedia/AirBnB etc”. Then the user can communicate with those preapproved partners like one does with a bot (or with Skills on Alexa) and in this way WhatsApp can facilitate the conversion.

Short Term:

Real time picture modification ie picture filters: WhatsApp should allow me to edit an image in the app (either while attaching an existing image or taking a snap and sending it across):

Why is this essential:
This is essential because users want to modify the images: either playing around with brightness etc or changing the tinge such as grayscale or sepia before sending it. Currently a user has to get out of the app, add the effects and then send it – this is a sub-optimal user experience and requires greater number of clicks.

User experience:
This can be solved by having an edit feature in the app which allows you to add these effects or modify the parameters while sending the image via an edit button.
This would look something like in the below gif which has been prepared on a slightly earlier version of WhatsApp.

whatsapp_pic_effects-3


Switching between video and audio call:
 One should have the ability to switch from video call mode to audio call mode without dropping off the call

Priority notification: If a phone/WhatsApp is in complete silent mode say at night, even then a selected few people should have access to us (their ping or calls on WhatsApp should be hearable or vibrate) but only for those people.

Why is this essential:
A lot of folks use their mobile phones as their alarm clock during sleep and keep it by their side. However, during sleep they do not want to get disturbed by everyone apart from a few folks. Currently either they have to silent every app notification / call to have a sound sleep. This feature will allow them at a blanket level to apply a priority notification feature for a few hours only for a few select users whom they want to be able to get in touch with them at any point of the time in the day (even while you are asleep). The rest of the users for that period will automatically follow the phone’s setting. This does not get solved by putting the phone in silent mode and doing custom access for some people individually because the custom accesses need to be defined for each person and you cannot specify a time for the custom access today (and hence you need to disable the custom access everytime you want to stop it since you do not want everyone to have access to you always).

User experience:
In settings, as a user, one should be able to select a Priority notification feature which should provide me the optionality of selecting users whom one wants this function to get applied to and also let me define the time for which this function should be valid.

What does the future hold in store?

If one looks at the various chat applications across the world, not only are chat applications seeing phenomenal growth in their respective geographies but in the future would evolve into platforms rather than just remaining standalone products. The future for instant messaging applications looks exciting: Facebook messenger has gone over a billion users, WeChat has become the go to app for almost anything in China, SnapChat has seen phenomenal growth and in 2016 Google launched Allo. These applications will form a new computing interface, influencing how we interact with each other, with our connected environment and with various businesses.

WhatsApp needs to realize that there are various jobs to be done for users in different geographies and it needs to create a platform facilitating those jobs at a geography level. WhatsApp is the most widely used chat app prevalent across geographies and the way of doing things differs by geography. Unlike other chat applications such as WeChat which have evolved into a platform by serving to an audience predominantly in China. WhatsApp does not have that kind of luxury while thinking about its platform play. However, this is an opportunity for WhatsApp to create an international platform over the mobile network (kind of an operating layer) on which people across geographies can not only communicate but also use it for other experiences such as commerce, communicating with businesses, intra enterprise communication, integration with offline world, payments, VR/AR integration and instant translation. Once WhatsApp is able to transform itself into such a global operating layer, not only would it become more engaging but would literally become indispensable for billions of users across the world.