If you’re looking for cross-platform messaging so you can chat with all your friends and contacts but have friends who are on iOS whilst some are on Android and others on PC or Mac, it’s hard to go past WhatsApp. It’s extremely popular with a large userbase and many people are already using it, and in fact you probably are already too – on your phone.
What many people don’t realise though, is that it also exists as a native Mac application, with a bit of a caveat. In order to use the Mac version you’ll need WhatsApp on your mobile device already. This is because WhatsApp accounts are tied to a particular cell-phone number, unlike many other messenger platforms which usually use usernames. Where-as the iOS iMessage app can use both, I’ve found that having messaging platforms all over the place can be quite a privacy problem – particularly if you’re sharing an iCloud username with, for example, your children. iMessage messages could very well end up on their mobile when you never intended that.
WhatsApp gets around this by ensuring you only authorise specific devices – and the authorisation process for adding WhatsApp Mac is very simple. To ‘pair’ the WhatsApp Mac application with your WhatsApp on your phone you’ll need to scan the QR Code that’s presented when you first install WhatsApp Mac. To do this, go to your phone and choose WhatsApp Web from the main screen. If you have no other devices attached to your WhatsApp, it’ll automatically default to something that looks like the screenshot on the right. If you do already have devices, you’ll see a screen first that looks like the one on the left – simply press the + icon with your finger to get to the QR Scanning screen. It’s handy that you can see all the authorised devices in this way – and remove any with which you’re unfamiliar too.
The QR scan can be a little picky and you may find you need to move the phone around a little bit until it lines up almost perfectly – but once you get it lined up, the scan should happen and you’ll find all your chats are now on your WhatsApp desktop application for Mac.
You will need to make sure your mobile phone is attached to the same wireless LAN network as your Mac, as the application won’t use cellular data to transfer the conversations. I suspect this may also be a technical limitation as the messages aren’t stored on WhatsApp servers for very long after they’re delivered – so I suspect that desktop app actually talks to the phone directly rather than via their servers. This is probably a good thing from a privacy perspective – and it means if you’re out of the house (or office) when WhatsApp messages come in to your phone, they’re not going to suddenly pop up on your screen where prying eyes might get to see them before you do.
Once installed and linked the application looks almost identical to the phone version, with the exception that your contacts are all listed down the left instead of on a seperate tab. The speech bubbles, background and even delivery and read receipt ticks all being identical. Even the sounds are that same. As you can see from the screenshot to the right, you can change various details about your account from the macOS application, just as you can from your phone. Indeed, it might even be easier to do on the application as it’s a bit less fiddly. Change your profile picture, name or status.
You can also block users, change the chat wallpaper and notifications from within the application rather than trying to fiddle around on the mobile device small screen.
Some might argue that it’s a bit pointless having all this on the desktop when it’s available on your mobile device anyway. I find it very handy as it’s easy to flip across from whatever you’re currently doing (or reading) using CMD-Tab, type a quick reply and then CMD-Tab back. It’s definitely easier and less intrusive to do that than it is to pick up the phone and type on the horrible virtual keyboard that every mobile device has.
You can even drag and drop attachments with ease – using Finder to navigate to the file you wish to send to your contact conversation and then simply drag and drop the attachment onto the conversation window.
All in all WhatsApp for Mac is extremely streamlined, well polished and works without a hitch. The only possible downside I can see is that you can’t do voice calls with the desktop version. I’m not sure if that’ll change any time soon, but in a lot of ways, that’s probably where the phone feels more natural anyway.
Design - 10/10
Features - 8/10
Cost - 10/10
Ease Of Use - 10/10
Overall Value - 10/10
Positives: Free, well laid out and familiar, drag and drop to send files
Negatives: No voice calls, tied to phone