The apps sync with a WhatsApp user’s account on their mobile device, once they’ve downloaded them and scanned a QR code from inside Settings > WhatsApp Web on the mobile app.
WhatsApp has made itself available on desktop before, through a web client called WhatsApp Web. The company launched that service in January 2015, initially for Android and Windows Phone users, before adding support for iOS users as well.
But its new desktop apps offer more native support, the ability to use keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to have messages open in a separate window as opposed to being in a browser or lost in a sea of tabs.
“Because the app runs natively on your desktop, you’ll have support for native desktop notifications, better keyboard shortcuts, and more,” WhatsApp said in a blog post Wednesday.
There have been several desktop apps in the past that have acted as wrappers for the browser plugins, such as ChitChat for Mac OS X, but this is the first time that Facebook-owned WhatsApp is providing its own native desktop solution.
WhatsApp’s entrance onto the desktops of millions of its users could pose a competitive threat for other messaging apps that have done well on desktop till now, such as Slack.
Chat apps in general are becoming more and more popular in business environments as a kind of shadow IT in enterprise, because they’re quicker and more efficient to use than email.
Though Slack is primarily used as a workplace communication tool and WhatsApp is associated with chatting between friends and family, WhatsApp’s group texting is still used by many businesses and organizations by virtue of its enormous popularity.
Some offices for instance will use it as a means to chat between work mates about where to go for lunch, whereas more formal implementations abound, such as the diamond ring retailer in London that uses WhatsApp (and till now its desktop web client) to communicate with customers. Politicians in India have used WhatsApp to launch carry out their election campaigns.
Slack retains a big advantage over WhatsApp when it comes to enterprise use, in that there’s little risk of enterprise users mixing up their use of Slack at the office with personal communications, as they might do with WhatsApp.
Yet WhatsApp’s new dedicated desktop client could certainly start to make it more appealing to enterprise users, particularly if it adds features over time such as an administrator portal or mobile management solutions, though that would be some ways down the line.