Andre Garzia's avatar

Whatsapp Doesn't Understand The Web

Today WhatsApp launched their web client in a way that is sure to upset and disappoint a lot of people. WhatsApp is a very popular instant message solution competing on the same market as LINE, Telegram and others. Here in Brazil WhatsApp is basically ubiquitous since its cheaper to send IM messages than to send SMS.

Unfortunately while other companies embrace the web and third party clients such as Telegram which has a list of official and unofficial clients and a public API, WhatsApp is actively waging war against third-party developers and their users. Last year they issued DMCA takedowns to all popular Github repositories hosting third-party clients and/or libraries interfacing with their API.

WhatsApp provides clients for many platforms but not for all platforms. Users of webOS, Firefox OS, Maemo, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch had to use third-party libraries and also users of other platforms where there is an official client preferred using a third-party client because of many reasons.

After the takedowns, WhatsApp started banning users that connected to their network using third-party client, a move so evil that deserves a post in its own and the reason I stopped using their service. Since the takedowns and the banishments people waited for the release of a web client that would enable other platforms to use their service thru the beautiful of the world wide web.

Well, they finally launched their web offerring but its such a poor offerring that one wonders if anyone at WhatsApp actually understand the power behind the web. Lets analyse some parts of their launch post from their company blog:

To connect your web browser to your WhatsApp client, simply open https://web.whatsapp.com in your Google Chrome browser. You will see a QR code — scan the code inside of WhatsApp, and you’re ready to go. You have now paired WhatsApp on your phone with the WhatsApp web client. Your phone needs to stay connected to the internet for our web client to work, and please make sure to install the latest version of WhatsApp on your phone. Unfortunately for now, we will not be able to provide web client to our iOS users due to Apple platform limitations.

I added some emphasis to the quote above. Lets count their mistakes:

Mistake one - it only works on a single browser

…simply open https://web.whatsapp.com in your Google Chrome browser

WTF!?!?!? There is Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer. All those with large user bases. I am not even counting the small browsers. And they chose to release only for Google Chrome? What year is this, 1995?

Sorry but if it works only on a single browser then its not a product, its a tech demo.

Mistake two - it requires the current WhatsApp client for Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone

You will see a QR code — scan the code inside of WhatsApp, and you’re ready to go

and

we will not be able to provide web client to our iOS users due to Apple platform limitations

So, to log in (pair) you need to have the current client on an Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone.

If you just have a dumb phone or another platform, you can’t use the web client. The web client is not an alternative, its a toy that only works if you already have a working up to date client on a blessed platform which is not iOS.

Instead of opening to new users by allowing registrations and usage over the web, they choose to maintain their walled garden. The web client is useless if you’re not already using their mobile app on Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry..

If it doesn’t work as a standalone client then its not a client, its an auxiliary toy, a second screen application, some buzzword but its not a client.

Mistake three - It doesn’t work if your phone is not connected to the internet.

Your phone needs to stay connected to the internet for our web client to work

MAJOR WTF?!!??!!? So you have your web client but it only works if your blessed mobile client is connected to the internet. We all know that battery life on a mobile device owned by a heavy user of IM tools never lasts long. So imagine that user trying to communicate with some WhatsApp pal and her SmartPhone battery gives up, she could use her computer to keep talking to her pal but in reality she can’t because the damn web client doesn’t work if your phone is dead.

Its even worse, imagine that office full of metal that behaves like a Faraday cage, or that office in a bad location sitting on the shadow of 3G coverage. Imagine all the reasons why your phone may lose connection to the internet. In all those cases, you will not be able to use the web client. Have a dead phone and you’re travelling on a train with WIFI and want to use the web client, you can’t! Are you sitting on a pub with free WIFI with a dead phone and want to call up your friends on WhatsApp, you can’t.

This is the most stupid decision ever to hit the web. What do we call a web client that requires a mobile app to be active on another machine for it to work? I call it a toy.

Conclusion

WhatsApp is not serious with this offerring. Their constant takedowns of third-party developers; their banishment of loyal users due to petty reasons; their crippled joke of a web client; all that proves they don’t have the best interest of their users at heart.

WhatsApp is a hostile company. It was hostile to developers, then it became hostile to the users and now is hostile to the web.

I am so glad I moved to telegram…

Bonus Mistake - using APIs that are not on the standards track

ARGHHHH!!!! Want to know one extra reason they went with Chrome-only over the rest of the connected world? They are using a local filesystem API that is not on the standards track as we can see on the shot below:

non-standard APIs Shot from Guillermo López

Thats a local filesystem API from Chrome that is not a web standard and is not even in the standards track. This is not the web we want. More than once people denounced Google habit of bundling APIs into their browser that are not standards and encouraging developers to use them. This is as much as Google fault as it is WhatsApp fault. Google is not the standard lover you think they are and WhatsApp is just evil.

So lets check the browser compatibility for requestFileSystem().

And they dare call it a “web client”…

Lets close this with a cartoon.


For more about the open web, HTML5 and Firefox OS you can follow me at @soapdog.


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