WhatsApp is testing a new feature which will allow users send message without using their phones for the first time.
At present, WhatsApp is linked to a user’s phone. Its desktop and web apps need that device to be connected to receive messages.
But the new feature will let users send and receive messages “even if their phone battery is dead”.
The new feature will be rolled out as a beta test to a “small group of users”, and the plans to improve performance and add features before enabling it for everybody to use.
End-to-end encryption – a key selling point of WhatsApp – will still work under this new system, the company said.
Several other messaging apps already have this feature, including rival encrypted app Signal, which requires a phone for sign-up, but not to exchange messages.
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In a blog post where the new update was announced, Facebook engineers say the change need a “rethink” of WhatsApp software design.
That is because the current version ” uses smartphone app as the primary device, making the phone the source of truth for all user data and the only device capable of end-to-end encrypting messages for another user [or] initiating calls”, the company said.
WhatsApp Web and other non-smartphone apps are like a “mirror” to what is happening on the phone.
But that system is a significant drawback familiar to many regular users, as the web app is known to frequently disconnect.
This also means that only one so-called “companion app” can be active at a time – so loading WhatsApp on another device will disconnect it from another WhatsApp web window.
“The new WhatsApp multi-device architecture removed this problem,
It no longer needs a smartphone to be the source of truth, even as you still keep user data seamlessly and securely synchronised and private,” the company said.
On a technical level, the solution will give every device its own “identity key”, and WhatsApp keeps a record of which keys belong to the same user account.
That means the company doesn’t have to store messages on its own server, which can lead to privacy concerns.