WhatsApp started the year with a bang, with the user base hitting 1.5 billion monthly active users. Since then its year has been pretty eventful, what with launching or testing new features with high frequency. Of course, fake news - the bane of many a social media platform - has become a pain point for WhatsApp too. So it came as no surprise when the company announced it is testing measures to curb the menace. But that's not the only new WhatsApp feature being tested right now - in fact, just today the group calling feature was rolled out globally, after being in testing for several weeks. Here's a rundown of all the new features that the Facebook-owned app has released, or is planning to release, in 2018.
1. Group video and voice calling
As mentioned above, WhatsApp group video and voice calling is official now for Android and iPhone users. The feature was in testing for over a month and does as the name suggests - but the number of people supported in a group calls is limited to just four. This new group calling feature is something that allowing users to come together and conduct VoIP calls, making it especially convenient considering the platform is so widely used in India.
2. WhatsApp Payments
Easily the biggest launch of this year for the messaging app in India was the integration of payments. Based on the Indian government-backed UPI or Unified Payments Interface, WhatsApp Payments is essentially a simple way to transfer funds to your contacts by entering in your UPI pin. While other platforms such as PhonePe, Paytm, and BHIM have already made the feature popular, integrating it onto a massively popular platform like WhatsApp has only helped it grow in India which is one of the biggest markets for the messaging platform.
The feature can be accessed by going into an individual conversation or a group, clicking on the Attachment icon, setting up your UPI account, and making the payment the usual way. It is available on Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone.
3. Group admin controls
WhatsApp in 2018 put a lot of its focus on enhancing groups and admin controls. First of all, group creators received the ability to change a group's description, as did participants in the group. However, group admins have the option to restrict participants from changing the description. Admins can also choose between All Participants and Only Admins to decide upon who can change the subject and icon of the group. In an update this year, WhatsApp also disabled the ability to remove group creators.
Another highlight of updates to WhatsApp groups in 2018 was a new feature that allows group admins to restrict participants from sending messages in the group. Most likely formulated for WhatsApp groups that are involved in buying and selling of products, this feature is expected to cut down on spam. To be able to use it, admins need to go into Group Info > Group Settings > Send Messages. From here, two options - All Participants and Only Admins - will be revealed.
4. Use Siri to send group messages
An extension of using Siri to send individual messages on WhatsApp for iPhone, first introduced in 2016, is the ability to use Apple's digital assistant to send messages in groups on the platform. To send a group message using Siri, users need to say "Hey, Siri!" or press and hold the iPhone's home button and then ask, "Send a message to group (name)." Once you select the appropriate group from the list it offers, you can speak out loud your message which will be sent to the same group.
5. Download all data
In line with the EU's new guidelines for data privacy, GDPR or European General Data Protection Regulation, that came into effect on May 25, WhatsApp has made available the ability to download all the data that has been collected by WhatsApp, on you, since you made your account on the platform. To request the data that WhatsApp has on you, you need to head over to Settings > Account > Request Account Info. Once done, you will be taken to a page where you have to click Request Report. Of course, messages will not be included in this data due to end-to-end encryption.
Do note that the data report will be generated only after about three days of submitting the request, and the data will be available for download only for a few weeks after that. Actions such as account deletion, number/ device change, and account re-registration will cancel the request.
6. Suspicious link indicator
Rolling out widely to WhatsApp beta for Android users as of July 2018, the new Suspicious Link Indicator feature has been added to WhatsApp updates amidst an effort to cut down spam, spoofing, and phishing instances on the platform. WhatsApp beta on Android 2.18.221 includes the ability to label a 'Suspicious Link', as such, whenever detected locally by the app. This is expected to warn unknowing users before they mistakenly open a malicious link. The app also gives out another warning when the user attempts to open the link.
7. Forwarding restrictions
Ever since the news of mob lynchings related to fake news on WhatsApp came to light, WhatsApp announced that it is testing putting strict limits on message forwarding on the platform in India. As per a statement by the Facebook-owned company, forwarding limit of up to five chats per user might be put into place soon, along with the removal of the forwarding shortcut from media messages.
In yet another move to combat the spread of misinformation, WhatsApp recently announced that it will start labelling forwards with a new 'Forwarded' tag to inform users of the action. This can allow recipients to stay alert and possibly fact check the text before sending it to others.
8. Jio Phone support
At Reliance Industries Limited's 41st Annual General Meeting this year, CEO Mukesh Ambani announced that WhatsApp will be coming to the company's Jio Phone and Jio Phone 2 starting August 15. The app will allow for input using voice commands as well as text, it was said at the event.
9. Predictive Upload
Rolling out for Android and iPhone users, the new Predicted Upload feature will have the ability to predict which photograph is going to be sent in a particular chat and upload it to the server in advance. This enables the user to send it to the recipient without any sort of upload delay. This feature is for when the photo is sent without any editing, as that will prompt a re-upload of the media file.
10. Mute from notifications and WhatsApp stickers
As is apparent from the name, WhatsApp now allows you to mute message threads right from the notification panel. But this feature is only applicable in the scenario where the user has sent you a minimum of 51 messages without you accessing the app. The Mute button appears below the messages in the notification panel, next to the Reply To option.
After a confirmation by CEO Mark Zuckerberg back in May this year, WhatsApp stickers have been made available in beta version 2.18.218 of WhatsApp on Android. A separate WhatsApp stickers store will roll out to stable versions in the future with the ability to download new sticker packs as they become available. This is similar to what Facebook Messenger offers.
11. Media visibility
With the new media visibility toggle, users can now pick and choose which individual or group chats they want to hide or show media content from. The media visibility feature is accessible under Contact Info and Group Info in Settings on the app. By default, all media content is visible in all groups and individual chats. You can select No to switch it off.
Will Jio Phone 2 help WhatsApp, YouTube reach the next billion users in India? We discussed that on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.