A few months ago, the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp announced a change in the availability of the service for specific Android and iPhone operating systems.
The announcement alerted users of the restrictions on creating new accounts or reverifying old phone numbers that had come into effect for any device with Android versions 2.3.7 or older and iOS 8 or older. The news also came with a disclaimer of the possibility of certain features not working on these versions due to device incompatibility.
However, the most important takeaway was the unavailability of WhatsApp on these operating systems by February 2020, which has now taken effect as of 1 February 2020.
Approximately 75 million Android users affected
Google’s distribution dashboard, a page containing different mobile device-related statistics, lists the approximate percentage of users for each Android version. According to Google’s data, which was last updated in May 2019, 0.3% of all active Android devices, worldwide, are still powered by Android’s versions 2.3.7 or older (also known as the Gingerbread version). This equates to 75 million out of an estimated 2.5 billion worldwide Android device users.
Since the number of WhatsApp users has already crossed 1.5 billion, it is safe to assume that this figure closely reflects the approximate number of users affected by the change.
It is much more difficult to come up with such a clear cut estimate for iOS since Apple has never officially revealed data about the number of users of each iOS version. Thus, this gap can only be bridged by third-party data according to which, 7.8% of iPhone users still use iOS versions 8 or older.
The ostensible reason behind this shift is to improve WhatsApp’s security, primarily. With each new system update, a device becomes more secure than before, owing to bug fixes and new features. Similarly, app updates boost app security.
While developing an app or fixing consequent bugs, a developer must come up with solutions that work for all devices and operating systems said app is available on. Since older OS lack security, ensuring user security becomes a challenge in such cases. Thus, experts believe that WhatsApp had no choice but to take such a measure.
The decision might be in good practice considering WhatsApp’s enormous scale and frequent run-ins with hackers, malware, and other cyber threats.
Another possible reason behind this decision could be to better support WhatsApp’s rumored merge with Facebook Messenger, which might happen this year. But an obvious argument against this is the lack of restrictions on Facebook’s availability.
WhatsApp was the most downloaded app on Google Play Store in Q1 2019, according to a report by Sensor Tower. Facebook’s messaging app Messenger came in second, with Chinese video-based social media app TikTok coming in third. However, the figures varied for Apple’s App Store, where WhatsApp was the fourth most downloaded app, with TikTok taking the number 1 spot and Facebook-owned Instagram scooping up third place.
It seems that WhatsApp is lined up for more changes in 2020, with the possibility of ads starting to appear on WhatsApp stories. The announcement was made last year at Facebook’s Marketing Summit. The decision, however, stirs up mixed feelings and raises questions about third-party access to user data and the overall privacy lends its users.