After a long, long wait, WhatsApp dark mode is now available to beta testers on Android and iOS, and hopefully a full global launch won't be far behind. Soon, everyone will be able to catch up with the group chat in comfort when the lights are low, and maybe even save a little battery power in the process.
It's a big step for the messaging app, which now has over two billion active users, but there are lots more changes on the horizon. Here are some of the changes and new features we're expecting to see in the coming months.
Some of these are almost certainly on the way, based on hints found in the app's install files, whereas others are speculation based on comments made by WhatsApp staff at conferences and trade shows. However many of them actually arrive on handsets, it's set to be an interesting few months.
Ads (a few, at least)
Originally, WhatsApp's owner Facebook had intended to start slipping ads into your chats in 2020, but just a few weeks ago it emerged that the team tasked with this job had been disbanded.
In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had broken up a team responsible for finding ways to work advertisements into conversations – a move that would have been met with widespread annoyance.
That doesn't mean WhatsApp will remain entirely ad-free, thoughl Facebook is still planning to plug ads into the app's Status feature. This works much like Instagram Stories, with posts that are only visible for a short time, but occupy your whole screen.
If Facebook can't advertise through WhatsApp, it can always earn a crust by taking a cut of goods sold by third-party retailers. In November 2019, the app gained a virtual catalog feature, which lets small retailers display their wares for potential customers to browse. Shoppers can choose what they'd like to buy, then contact the merchant to complete the purchase.
This is a handy feature that can help put small retailers in contact with millions of potential customers, but it's still necessary for them to leave the app to actually hand over their money.
A future update could follow the example of Instagram, letting companies add a 'checkout' option to posts that allows them to make a purchase directly.
Self-destructing messages are another feature that's been in the works a long time, and although we originally thought it might appear at the same time as dark mode, there's no evidence of it in beta yet, so we now expect it'll be a little longer.
The idea is that you'll be able to send messages that are deleted automatically after a certain period of time (an hour, a day, a week, a month or a year). This will be a handy privacy feature, allowing you to send potentially sensitive information to your contacts and know that it won't be stored on their phone indefinitely, ready to be discovered if their handset is borrowed or stolen.
An in-app browser
Another feature discovered in a WhatsApp beta APK, this is exactly what it sounds like: a web browser that allows you to open links without leaving the messaging app, much like those already used by Twitter and Facebook. It would probably be based on Chrome, and early signs suggest it would warn you if you happen to tap a link to a potentially harmful site.
A handy way to protect you from potential scams shared by malicious parties, or just friends who didn't know better.
Another feature that Facebook could copy across from Instagram, boomerang videos would allow you to share short, infinitely looping clips with your contacts. They won't have a profound effect on the way you communicate, but if the reception to Google's recently launched Emoji Kitchen is anything to go by, people love having a new toy that they and their friends can play with.
We'd certainly like to give it a try, and some of Instagram's image-optimizing filters would be a nice addition to WhatsApp as well. Maybe later...