Cease and Desist: WhatsApp Sucks, and You Can’t Help It
We’ve talked countless times about Android getting the shorter end when it comes to apps. We’ve all seen multiple cases of applications being inexplicably delayed or intentionally held back, remaining unupdated for months, or simply not existing on our favorite platform. And anyone can figure out that that is because of money. Which is good news, because Android app profitability has been on the rise for a while now, and it is approaching levels where it can entice developers with the promise of a healthy revenue. The Playstore just keeps growing and stealing revenue from Apple.
You only need to look at graphs like those of appfigures to learn that the gap is closing to an end. But does this mean that we will see better apps? If there’s a company that seems to scream a big fat “no” at us, it is Facebook. All of us know how Facebook operates, and the kind of things they are willing to do to expand and monetize, but they seem to forget about the end-user as… well, a living and breathing customer. With their reiterated decisions for their mobile apps, smartphone owners (and Android owners, especially) see worse and worse user experiences. And now they’ve taken it to go as far as shutting down the alternatives that made their services bearable in today’s day and age.
First of all, the quintessential application in their repertoire, the Facebook app, has been sub-par for too long of a time now. It seems that Facebook simply has no idea of how to design their app and make it as functional as the PC counterpart on the mobile platform. I get annoyed every time I am told someone commented on a post, yet can’t look at that comment. What is the point of telling me than? Facebook apps were plagued with inconsistencies like these, and despite their improvements, some things just never change, and will still frustrate you: like the fact that the battery drain you see from this particular app is so noticeable that even the most mainstream and casual user complains about it. And it is almost guaranteed that any of the “battery optimization” guides here on XDA will suggest you to greenify Facebook.
But then there’s the fact that Facebook keeps screwing users over in their application design. I’m not talking just about the interface, though. One of the main outrageous gripes people had with the Facebook app came when the company decided to dismantle their Messenger service outside the app. They separated it into an app that nobody ever asked for, and then proceeded to ransom messages from you, inquiring that you have to download their separate IM application. This really goes against the basic spirit of Facebook, as its success was partially due to its “one-stop” nature which unified many social media services into a single accessible unit. But what they wanted to do was divide (themselves) to conquer, by trying to get Facebook to replace your individual services. Luckily, now you can send messages with the Facebook app, but when you first open the tab you are still greeted with a message saying that they’ll “soon be moving” it again. Ugh.
And finally, I don’t know exactly how much every user faces this, but here in South America I’ve had basically every friend circle complain about “sponsored posts”. Initially, Facebook decided to move their ads from the side to the actual news feed on the PC interface, and have ads based on your searches, post history, etc. The fact that they try to make your facebook experience about shopping as much as it is staying in touch with your friends is questionable. And some of the people paying to be sponsored can suffer too, as they often face the anger of the people subdued to this spam. But this affects mobile more so then on PC because a single newstory takes almost all of your available newsfeed space, and this even happens on my lower DPI. This is not even touching on some of the ridiculous click-baity, inappropriate and often malware-containing “sponsored” posts you can get too.
But Facebook is not the only app from this company that sucks. I’m sure many of you instagrammers noticed how crappy their images look when uploaded from an Android device. It turns them from pristine high-resolution PNG goodness to compressed, artifact-filled low-resolution JPEG. We’ve covered this in our Instagram Compression Analysis to debunk the myth that maybe it was an Android limitation. What we found is that it was not, and that it was simply lazy or sub-par development for the app. Which is the same reason most of Facebook’s repertoire has missing features, implements them incorrectly, causes lots of wakelocks, or simply suck. I mean, it took Facebook two years to add the option to edit captions in Instagram pictures. Before that, a typo could ruin your post. Something that basic should have been there from day one, but Facebook apparently didn’t care enough to bring such a feature in an update.
What’s up with WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a famous app all over the world, and is the go-to instant messaging solution in many regions. WhatsApp now has over 700 million users world-wide as of January 2015, and it has been a strong service in countries for years now because it had an inventive solution to the slower smartphone adoption of a few years back. It was initially released in 2009, back when smartphones were still in diapers. Now, what WhatsApp did was port the application to feature phone operating systems of Nokia devices, which were very big in countries like those of South America before the smartphone adoption began. So Nokia Symbian phones, or phones with java support, could also access WhatsApp, which allowed them to grow a smartphone userbase before the users even had smartphones.
Now this is reflected in their biggest user-bases, like that of India which boasts over 70 million users alone. Such countries have seen an accelerated smartphone adoption in recent years, especially with the rise of quality budget handsets like the Moto G and the Android One project, and have seamlessly transitioned to WhatsApp. The fame WhatsApp got out of all this success made them a target in Facebook’s eyes, and like they did with Instagram, they bought it for the mind-blowing amount of 19$ billion.
WhatsApp’s success is mostly loyal to these low-specification roots – its biggest strength lies in the fact that it is so light and minimal in resources that any phone can run it efficiently. But there’s a big problem with this: in order to stay functional on low-end devices, which WhatsApp’s userbase mostly consists of, it has to stay light and optimized. And instead of opting for a way around the limitations of the many budget phones that are supposed to run it – through optimization and clever implementations – the people in charge mostly chose to leave many of the app’s aspects simply stagnate.
One of these aspects is the interface, and WhatsApp features one of the most boring and ugliest interfaces you’ll find on an IM client, let alone one so popular. While Messenger is much better than it used to be, Facebook decided to leave this app looking like it did close to a couple of years ago instead of investing in the development it’d take to make it pretty and modern while still keeping it light. This issue was punctuated further with the release of Android 5.0 Lollipop and Material Design. Android users now want consistency in their experience, and when you transition from a beautifully animated UI to the dullest app in your drawer, the difference is staggering, immediately noticeable and quite repulsing. They updated the app to “Holo” in 2013, yet it still looks outdated even by also outdated Holo standards.
Android developers did what they do best, however, and sought out to fix this. They re-designed the WhatsApp application, and brought it to modern day standard with beautiful – and customizable – interfaces. WhatsApp Plus was the biggest mod, but there’s also a few notable mentions like WhatsApp MD (Material Design). Both drastically improve the aesthetics and they are still just as speedy on good-spec’d phones, even those of a few years ago.
Typical Facebook, once more
People enjoyed these mods for a while, but Facebook always wants to exert its monopoly on the user community, and they made it their mission to get rid of these mods. As a result, users of these modded APKs were banned for 24 hours from using the service, and not allowed to keep using this modded application. According to BBC news, their claim was that their goal “is always to keep WhatsApp fast and secure for the people who use it”. Moreover, they say that “third-parties that have built unauthorised functionality on top of WhatsApp create issues for people including lost messages”.
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see that this simply not the case, at least not on a big scale. But my favorite bit from the spokesman’s speech was that these mods “go against the experience we work hard to give people and we won’t let it continue”. So they admit, even if partially, that the experience these mods provide – that of a cleaner, more functional interface – goes against what they want us to experience. Who would have thought?
Developers in trouble
“We have received a cease and desist letter from WhatsApp and we are obligated to remove all download links and unfortunately delete this community”, is what WhatsApp Plus developer Rafalense wrote before taking down the app’s Google+ community. Just like that, the biggest WhatsApp mod – with figures that according to reports of a third-party Android market, could go upwards of 35 million downloads – saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
But that wasn’t enough. The second biggest WhatsApp mod called WhatsApp MD saw its development stunted by pre-legal action as well. The difference is that WhatsApp MD had circumvented the banning system with their latest release, and Facebook opted for a route easier than just developing a new version scanner: Extorting the single main developer with threats in yet another Cease and Desist letter.
But if that wasn’t enough, they did something only a software bully would do. Following a short disappearance, we got an update from the creator that told us what was going on. And what we learned was that they banned developer Joaquin Cutiño’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. To this he replied by saying that if they gave him the accounts back, he would stop WhatsApp MD development, and if they didn’t comply with his request, he would continue the application’s development. As far as we know, they still haven’t sorted it out.
These practices show once again what Facebook’s true face is. They speak of a company that is simply focused on controlling an industry, and monetizing by treating its customers like droves of brainless consumers. This shouldn’t come off as news, as Facebook’s own founder and ruler Mark Zuckerberg called its trusting user base “dumbf**ks”. And by attacking these small developers who simply want to provide a better user experience, they show that they refuse to provide one themselves consciously and willingly, be it because of money or laziness. Considering that small and dedicated developers could build up these mods, it makes one think that Facebook really has a sub-par development process. Instagram is a staple of this.
The irony in all of this lies in how they are hypocritical in their statements, too. From the spokesman we mentioned previously, to WhatsApp’s own FAQ page. The letter reads:
“Please be aware that WhatsApp Plus contains source code which WhatsApp cannot guarantee as safe and that your private information is potentially being passed to 3rd parties without your knowledge or authorization.”
Ha! Because Facebook is the pinnacle of information security, and is known for being a moral monolith in the software industry. Because they don’t sell your information ever, and because they never hold back from delivering their users the best in security. Sarcasm aside, companies like Facebook completely disregard users and their experience. They repeatedly treat us like ad-watching machines and ensure that we stay docile in our outcries for a better service. Every now and then they throw us a bone, as if saying “look, we haven’t forgotten about you”. But the fact that I’ve seen the same features and interface on WhatsApp for years now reminds me of the truth every time I must send a message. The only meaningful feature update I can ever recount WhatsApp had was the “read status”.
The fact that they target the people fixing their own service shows just how little they think of the concepts we at XDA value so much: openness, freedom, and choice – the three things Android does best. With their constant measures, we are forced to have sub-par applications and services. I hope that one day their mass of users becomes conscious of these pitiful ways and react to their questionable deeds. Maybe one day, they’ll be the ones to cease and desist.
But for now, even us at XDA are told to stay still.
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