We know the change is coming because of EU rules that gave Meta a March deadline to open up its messaging platform – it's also why Apple is opening up the iPhone to App Store alternatives in Europe. But exactly how this interconnected system of messaging apps might look has been a bit of mystery, with only WhatsApp beta leaks teasing possible ways cross-app chats could work.
In general, the system works as we expected – you’ll be able to chat with people using other messaging services, but there will be some hoops you and software developers need to jump through. The first is that you’ll have to opt in to cross-app messaging, as it won’t be switched on by default.
It’s never simple
The next bump in the road is that your WhatsApp chats and third-party app chats won’t be able to mingle in one inbox, instead if you opt-in to cross-app messaging your third-party conversations will be put into a separate “third-party chats” inbox – meaning there are some extra taps required to open them.
Brouwer explained that the decision to keep the inboxes separate is because WhatsApp can’t guarantee these other services “offer the same level of privacy and security” as its own WhatsApp platform. So by keeping them separate it’s creating an obvious barrier between the chats it can confirm hold up to its security standards and those it can’t.
Another issue is that for a third-party service to be interoperable with Meta’s WhatsApp and Messenger apps, the company behind it will need to sign an agreement with Meta to follow certain terms. Exactly what this agreement looks like isn’t yet known, but some messaging services may not want to be beholden to Meta even if the terms are themselves agreeable.
Case in point, we expect Apple will be keen to keep iMessages separate from this interconnected platform system, given that Apple has tried hard to stamp out similar initiatives in the past – such as Beeper Mini.
One stipulation might be that the apps use the Signal encryption protocol given that Brouwer says this is what Meta would prefer. Signal, WhatsApp, Messenger, Google Messages, and Skype all use this encryption protocol so there’s already a handful of interoperability candidates – but other platforms use their own encryption methods and may not want to swap.
Brouwer added that Meta could be open to other chat services using alternative encryption protocols, but they’d need to show they hold up to at least the same level of security as WhatsApp’s outlines in its standards.
So yes, interoperability between chat services is coming but it’ll probably take some time for other services to join Meta’s platforms after it goes lives – and it might not feel quite as seamless as we had hoped.
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Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.