WhatsApp launches overdue formatting features, bringing order to chaotic texts

WhatsApp is releasing several new formatting tools to help you manage those long walls of text in group chats.

Triggering one of the new text formats requires you to enter a certain punctuation mark, followed by a space, and then the words themselves. Hyphens let you create a bullet list. A numeral with a period right after establishes a numbered list. Users can even make block quotes by first hitting the Greater Than arrow on the keyboard and then adding a space. To make inline code, you’ll have to press the accent symbol (which is found below the Esc key on most keyboards) followed by a single space. If done correctly, the messages you enter will be reformatted to your specifications. Otherwise, you’ll just see a bunch of random punctuations.

In total, users now have eight different ways to spruce up their conversations on the platform counting the likes of bold, italic, strikethrough, and monospace from years prior.

WhatsApp's new formatting tools

(Image credit: Future)

Finer details

Meta announced the update on social media and via WhatsApp notification; however, they neglected to mention some of the finer details. Not only are the features present in one-on-one chat rooms but also on the platform’s Channels, according to TechCrunch. The tools are available on WhatsApp for Android, iOS, Mac, and web browsers. Do keep in mind the patch is still rolling out so there’s a chance you may not have it on your mobile device. We didn’t get it on our Android, but luckily, it's currently live on the web version.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that we didn’t mention the Windows desktop app. This is because, for whatever reason, the Windows version lacks these features. It’s a rather strange omission especially when you consider the fact that this update has been in the works since August 2023. You’d think Meta would’ve brought it over PC in that time. So we reached out to the company asking for information on a Windows release. We’ll let you know if we hear back.

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WhatsApp working on a way to stop users from screenshotting your profile pic

Meta may be releasing yet another layer of privacy protection to WhatsApp that will prevent people from taking screenshots of your profile photo on the service.

This upcoming feature was discovered in the most recent WhatsApp beta on Android by WABetaInfo. It'll be housed within the Privacy section of the Settings menu, according to tomsguide.  Having access to the blocking tool, they attempted to take a screenshot of a profile picture however they were prevented from doing so. The publication was met with a notification at the bottom of the screen stating they couldn’t take a screenshot “due to app restrictions”. 

As explained in the report, WhatApp introduced the option to stop users from saving “others’ profile photos” about five years ago. It was supposed to prevent bad actors from sharing images without the owner’s consent; however, screenshotting completely bypasses this. WABetaInfo argues that directly blocking the ability to screenshot allows WhatsApp to further reinforce “the concept of user privacy and consent” on its service. It seemingly doesn’t want said bad actors to utilize people’s photographs for scams, impersonations, or harassment.

Analysis: A small, yet important issue

Now you may be wondering, “Is taking unauthorized screenshots of a WhatsApp profile picture really that big of an issue?” 

Well, based on the brief research we did, it seems screenshotting profile photos isn’t a major problem plaguing the user base, but it is an anxiety held by a small group. We’ve seen multiple posts on Reddit of people voicing their concern over this issue. Someone on the Privacy subreddit even asked if it was possible to find out who screenshotted their WhatApp profile pic.

We also found an interesting post on Medium by writer Bilge Tekin who proposed the concept of a Screenshot Restriction feature for WhatsApp back in 2021. Tekin’s idea took it a step further by preventing screenshotting in chat rooms. When he had people try out his idea, it seemed the testers liked having the option to restrict others from sharing private conversations. 

Granted, none of these examples come from a Meta-financed scientific study or an official poll. There haven't been any large-scale studies delving into this phenomenon as far as we can tell. But at the very least, it could give WhatsApp an edge over rivals by appealing to this niche subset of the user base. Neither Telegram nor Signal have a feature like this. Plus, having the option doesn't hurt.

If you’re interested in trying out the new tool, you’ll first need to join the Google Program Beta Program and then install the beta version of WhatsApp. The blocking update may not be available to you as only a select group currently has access, but WABetaInfo states it will be rolling out to more users over the coming weeks.

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WhatsApp is expanding Chat Lock so it syncs with other versions simultaneously

WhatsApp is working on expanding its Chat Lock feature allowing it to synchronize across all linked devices. So if you lock a conversation on the mobile app, it’ll remain locked on WhatsApp for web and Windows. It doesn’t work that way currently as the other platforms are treated as separate entities.

This future update was discovered by WABetaInfo after diving into the latest Android beta. They discovered a window with a line of texting stating WhatsApp took the opportunity to also close up the chat room on a linked device. And to open it up again, you’ll need to “use your secret code”. This “secret code” they’re referring to is a recently released security feature that was added to the platform this past November. The publication goes on to say all locked chats will be collected into a list and to access that list, you’ll need to enter your code.

Added convenience and security

Chat Lock’s expansion accomplishes two things that we’re huge fans of. One: it makes WhatsApp more convenient to use since you don’t have to relock the same conversation on Windows. It simplifies the process. And two: it offers the promise of consistent protection across your devices. This upgrade, as WABetaInfo points out, will unify privacy management across the platform’s different forms.

The feature is still under development. It doesn't work in any capacity. Although judging by the posted image, the enhanced Chat Lock may be rolling out to beta testers soon. No word on whether the same tool will be released to WhatsApp on iOS. WABetaInfo doesn’t say whether or not it will, however, it could just be a matter of time until we see it crop up on iPhones.

Instant block

Alongside the leak, Meta made a small update to WhatsApp giving users a way to block others right from the lock screen or chat list without ever having to open the text. Notifications will now have a Block option on them next to Reply. We don’t blame you if you have no idea about this. The company didn’t announce anything on its social media platforms or main avenues. Meta instead made the reveal via text coming from the official WhatsApp channel. So unless you're subscribed to the channel, you wouldn't know anything.

This patch is currently rolling out to the Android app. It’s unknown if iOS users will receive the same tool. Meta hasn’t said anything nor could we find anybody talking about getting the feature on their iPhone. So we reached out to Meta asking for information on if there are plans to expand the lock screen block tool to iOS. This story will be updated at a later time.

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WhatsApp could soon let you directly message other apps like Signal

Meta is currently working on improving WhatsApp’s interoperability by giving users the ability to directly message people on different platforms like Signal.

Evidence of this upgrade comes from WABetaInfo revealing the feature was found on a recent WhatsApp beta for iOS. The post offers very few concrete details, but enough that we can paint a picture of what the final release may look like.

An image on the post shows the Chats tab will have a new section exclusive for third-party conversations, storing all outward chats. Users will apparently be given manual control over this function with the option to disable it at any time. Additionally, text messages to and from third-party sources will sport end-to-end encryption to ensure complete privacy. 

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It’s unknown exactly how many or which platforms will be able to communicate with WhatsApp. Signal is only mentioned as an example.

Normally, we would direct you to install the WhatsApp beta on iOS to try out this feature. However, the TestFlight program for the platform is completely full at the time of this writing. No word on whether or not extra spots will open in the future. But, if you own an Android phone, you can join the Google Play Beta Program and download the WhatsApp beta from there. You might get the opportunity to try out the update. Google’s service tends to have more spots available for people interested in early software builds.

New rules

Although it’s not officially confirmed, WABetaInfo believes this increased interoperability is the result of the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). 

The DMA, if you don’t remember or are familiar with it, is a law that was passed back in 2022 aimed squarely at major tech corporations. Its main purpose is to limit the amount of power these “gatekeepers” have over the industry and their users. One of the new rules requires companies that own a messaging platform (i.e. Meta) to allow people to talk to others on third-party apps. EU regulators didn’t like the fact these services function essentially like islands; isolated from each other and forcing users to play by their rules.

After the law passed, government officials in Europe gave these corporations ample time to prepare their services for when the DMA officially goes into effect. The EU will begin enforcing the legislation on March 6.

It’s unknown when WhatsApp’s interoperability upgrade will roll out. Given that the effective date is a little over a month away, we may see it come out sometime in February or very early March. Perhaps, it'll come out to Android first since its beta has been out since September 2023. Keep in mind that this is all speculation on our end. Things can always change.

Until then, check out TechRadar's roundup of the best encrypted messaging apps for Android of 2024.

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WhatsApp on Android could soon let you share files with nearby friends

WhatsApp may receive its own version of Apple’s AirDrop as a recent Android beta shows hints that a file-sharing feature is in the works.

A post on WABetaInfo offers insight into the potential update. Like AirDrop, the feature only works between two people. Both users will need to have the software open to the tool and be “within close proximity” to exchange files. What’s particularly interesting about this file sharing is the receiving person will need to physically shake their smartphone to create a share request. 

WABetaInfo explains this is to maintain a “controlled approach to file exchanges” between contacts. It's similar to how AirDrop lets people configure its settings so they only receive content from trusted sources. However, the website claims it will be possible to share media with non-contacts on WhatsApp. Phone numbers will remain hidden in this situation to preserve anonymity.

And just like sending messaging on WhatsApp, file sharing is end-to-end encrypted according to the website, ensuring personal information and content being sent is protected from outside interference. 

Pending information

That’s pretty much all that is known about WhatsApp’s file-sharing feature. A lot of the finer details have yet to be revealed. 

It’s unknown exactly how sending media to non-contacts will work. Will all receiving users have to shake their device too or will Meta change its mind and throw out that step replacing it with a simple menu setting? Going back to AirDrop, Apple’s version lets you change the receiving setting to Everyone allowing non-contacts to accept content from you.

Additionally, we don’t know if there are any file-size limitations for shared files. The maximum size for sending media to group chats is 2GB at the moment. The upcoming feature will probably have a similar size although it would be nice to see Meta expand the limit. Considering that we live in a world where 4K videos exist, an expansion would be great to have.

No word on when this update will become available to beta testers. WABetaInfo states the tool is still under development, so a preview build doesn’t exist yet. If you’re interested in trying out the file-sharing feature once it’s ready, you can become a WhatsApp beta tester by joining the Google Play Beta Program. You may be one of the lucky few to gain access down the line.

Analysis: cross-platform sharing

One thing we would like to see is compatibility across different operating systems. Imagine being able to send files from an Android phone to an iOS device and vice versa. It would certainly give WhatsApp an edge over Quick Share.

If you’re not familiar, Google and Samsung recently entered a partnership that resulted in many new products and combining Nearby Share into Quick Share. Now Android users can use the function for quick file sharing, hence the name. Assuming Meta rolls out the update in its current state, it could cause a lot of confusion as people would arguably be receiving the same thing twice. Giving WhatsApp's tool cross-platform support would make it stand out considerably.

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WhatsApp launches self-destructing voice messages to Android and iOS

WhatsApp is officially giving users the ability to send out temporary voice messages to their contacts.

We say “officially” because this feature has actually been around for the past two months or so although it was in a beta state. People in the beta program were the only ones who had access at the time. Don’t worry about feeling like you missed out because the View Once messages, as they’re called, function exactly the same as before. Meta didn’t make any changes with the official release.

You start by holding down the record button, then swipe up to lock it. Recordings must be locked first in order to make the View Once icon (which is the number one inside the circle) appear in the bottom right-hand corner. Tap it once to activate it and a timer will be attached to the message. Hit Send and you’re done

WhatsApp's new View Once voice messages

(Image credit: Future)

A few limitations

From there, the recipient has two weeks to listen to the recording. You’ll know they’ve listened when the little receipt marker appears below the message. If they ignore it the entire time, WhatsApp will automatically delete it. Do note you’ll be unable to save, share, or forward these self-destructing voice messages. 

It is possible to restore a recording from a backed up chat room, but only if it was never opened in the first place, according to a page on WhatsApp’s support website. If it was already heard, then you’re out of luck. Another one will have to be sent.

The update is currently rolling out globally to all WhatsApp users on Android and iOS devices. Be sure to keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives over the coming days. We reached out to Meta asking if there plans to add the same feature to the desktop app. If you’re not aware, the company gave WhatsApp on desktop the ability to send self-destructing images and videos. Perhaps it’ll also receive support for temporary voice messages. This story will be updated at a later time.

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WhatsApp now lets you use secret codes to lock your private chats

WhatsApp is making its Chat Lock tool even more secure by introducing Secret Codes that will hide private chat rooms.

The way it currently works, Chat Lock takes conversations and places them into a separate folder that can only be opened with either your phone’s password or biometric login. This can be helpful if you share the device with others. However, it doesn’t stop other people who know the password from taking a peek at any time. Secret Codes addresses this by allowing users to implement a second password separate “from what you use to unlock your phone”. Creating one, according to WhatsApp’s announcement, will cause your locked folder to disappear from your inbox as an extra layer of privacy.

To make hidden chats reappear, the company states you’ll have to type your recently created code directly into the search bar on the main page. If you don't wanted the locked folder to be totally, you have the option to keep them there. 

WhatsApp is also making it easier to lock up chats. Now all you have to do is long press a conversation, tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner, then select Lock Chat in the drop-down menu.

How to add a secret code

Let’s say you have a couple of locked chats you want to keep hidden. 

To start, tap the three dots in the top right corner, then select Chat Lock Settings. Activate Secret Code and come up with a password. What’s interesting is you can use emojis in the code alongside numbers, letters, and punctuation marks and get pretty creative. Do note the password you create must either be four characters long or be a single emoji.

We have a couple of examples in the image below.

WhatsApp Secret Code examples

(Image credit: WhatsApp)

Now, if you go to the main page, the locked folder is gone (although you can disable the disappearing folder by turning off Hide Locked Chats in the settings). Type in the code you just made into the search bar to make the conversations reappear.

Finding locked chat on WhatsApp

(Image credit: WhatsApp)

Be aware this update is for WhatsApp on mobile only as the locked chats aren't present anywhere else. No word if any of these features will make their way to desktop. Secret Codes is rolling out and will be available globally “in the coming months”. Keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives. 

Jam-packed week

This past week has been a busy one for WhatsApp as the platform recently made two other updates. We first saw the desktop app gain the ability to send “self-destructing photos and videos” which will automatically delete themselves after being opened once. A little bit before that, WhatsApp released a beta giving select users access to AI assistants with most of them sporting a unique “personality” like the anime nerd as well as the dungeon master that’ll tell you a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Big things are happening on WhatsApp with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. While we have you, we recommend following TechRadar’s official WhatsApp channel to get our latest reviews right on your phone.

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WhatsApp beta introduces AI assistant to chats – here’s how it works

As part of a recent beta, WhatsApp is giving select mobile users access to Meta’s new AI-powered chat rooms.

If you don’t remember, Meta announced during its Connect 2023 event that it was working on an “in-app assistant” for several of its platforms. The tech functions similarly to Bing Chat as you can ask it questions or engage “in some light conversation” with it. What’s more, the company revealed you can also give the AI a unique personality with each one based on a famous celebrity. For example, the Dungeon Master persona will guide you through a choose-your-own-adventure game and will have a video feed of rapper Snoop Dogg. It won't, however, imitate his speech patterns or mannerisms. It's solely the AI that Meta developed.

We don’t know when this WhatsApp feature will officially launch. WABetaInfo reports, however, that both iOS and Android users can try out a beta version of the tech. The former was recently released while the latter has been available since November 17. On top of introducing the in-app assistant, the update places the AI-powered conversations right on the Chats tab for quick access.

How to use WhatsApp's new AI assistant

Android owners who are interested must first join the Google Play Beta Program and install the WhatsApp Beta app on their devices. For iPhone users, we would normally direct people to join the TestFlight Beta Program. Unfortunately, the WhatsApp Beta on iOS is closed. It hasn’t had an open slot for the past two and a half years, at the time of this writing. 

Worry not because we have access to the AI assistant on Android and we’ll show you what it’s like. Upon launching WhatsApp, tap the green Chat icon in the lower right corner, then select New AI chat.

WhatsApp create an AI assistant

(Image credit: Future)

On the following page, you will see every single persona currently available. We’ll select the base Meta AI for now. There, it’ll suggest some topics of discussion to start things off like what are the most popular shows on Netflix? The assistant will respond by giving recommendations while also linking to its source. You can see in the image below it got the information from TechRadar’s list of the best Netflix shows. From here, you can continue the conversation however you like.

WhatsApp AI Assistant making recommendations

(Image credit: Future)

How to try out WhatsApp's AI personas

If you want a specific personality, you can choose from a variety across different categories like Sports, Pop culture, and Advice. In this example, we’ll choose the Dungeon Master mentioned earlier. It’ll provide content suggestions at the start such as creating a playable character in the story. Each persona comes with a celebrity or actor emoting in real-time. You can move the feed around to the four corners of the screen, but you can’t get rid of it. It’s a permanent fixture.

WhatsApp's Dungeon Master AI

(Image credit: Future)

Once you’re done, you can find the AI conversations in the main Chat tab on your WhatsApp account on mobile. Or you can even continue conversing with the personas on WhatsApp for desktop. Each one can be found in the left-hand menu with the rest of your chat rooms. 

WhatsApp AI assistant on desktop

(Image credit: Future)

Keep in mind you cannot create an assistant on a desktop. The update is strictly for mobile only although it does invertedly reveal this feature will be available outside of smartphones in some form. It’s unknown at this time if this patch is widely available. WABetaInfo does claim Meta has plans to expand the AI personas “to a wider audience in the future”, but doesn’t provide any further details.

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Your WhatsApp backups on Android will soon eat into your Google Drive storage

Bad news for WhatsApp users on Android: chat log and media backups will soon count toward your Google Account storage limit.

This includes the free 15GB of storage given to people whenever they create a new Google Account. That amount is shared across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos with the update further restricting on what can be saved. This move is a complete reversal of a 2018 decision where backups didn’t count toward the limit. It was all on the house. 

Google explains on its Android Help website that it’s enacting this change so the “WhatsApp backup experience… will be in line with how it works on other platforms, with the added benefit of” having the free 15GB. The tech giant takes the time to point out this is “three times more than most mobile platforms” which appears to be a random potshot at iCloud’s more confining 5GB of storage. 

The new rules

WhatsApp’s own post on its help website describes in detail how the update will roll out. It’ll affect WhatsApp Beta users first starting in December 2023. After that, the changes will periodically expand to all Android users throughout the first half of 2024. The platform states it’ll erect a banner in the Chat Backup section of the app’s Settings menu 30 days before it goes live on your phone.

Once you’ve reached the storage limit, you will need to start deleting files on your account in order to resume backups. You do have the option to purchase more storage via Google One. Prices normally start at $ 2 for the 100GB plan; however, at the time of this writing, monthly subscriptions have been reduced to $ 0.50 for the first three months. WhatsApp also recommends using their Chat Transfer tool to move chats between phones.

It’s important to mention this only affects personal Google Accounts. “If you have a Google Workspace subscription through work or school,” nothing changes for you. Restrictions won’t be implemented.

Feeling the squeeze

We should mention the move isn’t totally coming out of nowhere. 

Hints of this decision first appeared all the way back in early 2022 when news site WABetaInfo discovered code in a WhatsApp beta revealing the cut off. We theorized the limitations were due to the sheer size of some chats as well as the “quantity of multimedia content people share” on the platform. All that data may have been putting a squeeze on Google servers “costing [the company] a significant sum.” 

It appears all the recent WhatsApp updates have exacerbated this issue. We reached out to Google asking if it would like to make a statement. A company representative told us one of the main reasons why the two are making this change is “that over the years, more people have joined WhatsApp, sharing more high-res images and videos than ever before.” 

During this past summer, the platform gave people the ability to share high definition photographs and videos. Perhaps the large file sizes proved to be too much for Google to handle, forcing the company to implement some sort of limitation on the platform.

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