Why WhatsApp’s Message Transcription Could Be the Best Thing for Messaging

Solving the most annoying part of modern messaging

Key Takeaways

  • WhatsApp will add on-device voice-message transcription to its iPhone app.
  • Recipients can scan long messages and ignore all the fluff.
  • Transcription is also great for business and accessibility.
Someone listening to a voice message on an iphone.

yang miao / Unsplash

What if you never had to listen to another incoherent voice message ever again?

Coming soon to WhatsApp on iOS: automatic voice-message transcription. This will take the incoming ramblings of your friends and family and turn them into text so that you can scan them and get straight to the important bits.

For instance, are you trying to arrange a dinner date with a friend? With a transcribed voice message, you can skip straight to the reservation time and ignore the parts about how another friend’s cousin visited the same restaurant that one time, and "...wait, I’m just about to go into a tunnel. OK, I’m back."

"The recipients of voice messages on WhatsApp will benefit the most from this feature. They will no longer have to play the audio messages out loud in public or save it for later. They can access the information in the voice messages conveniently whenever they want without worrying about the public listening in," network engineer Eric McGee told Lifewire via email. 

Privacy

How will Facebook manage to transcribe WhatsApp voice messages without compromising the end-to-end encryption that keeps your messages private?

"The recipients of voice messages... can access the information in the voice messages conveniently whenever they want without worrying about the public listening in,"

Easy. Facebook isn’t doing anything. Instead, it’s using iOS’s built-in voice transcription features, the ones that you may already use to dictate your messages. Yes, dictate them, which is the correct way to send messages if you cannot type them out because you get all the convenience of speaking without subjecting the recipient to your endless drivel.

The iOS transcription feature works on-device in iOS 15, but even if you’re stuck with uploading the audio to Apple’s servers, you might trust it more than you trust Facebook. The downside is that this feature is iPhone-only.

Transcriptions are saved, so they only have to be done once, and there is some support for jumping to timestamps from the text. 

Not Just Convenient

There are plenty of great reasons to offer voice-message transcription, aside from just being less annoying to deal with. You can quickly see what a message is about, scanning for essential details, and then listen to it all later. 

Also, you can refer back to the message after listening. Instead of having to sit through the whole thing again, just to get to the restaurant's address, you can just read it with your eyes.

There’s a significant accessibility win here too.

"Recipients with hearing impairments will also greatly benefit from this feature as it makes it easier for them to communicate with others using the messaging service," says McGee

It may be unusual to send voice messages to deaf friends and colleagues, but I’m sure it happens. It’s also easier to read in noisy environments, and so on. 

Someone looking at a message on a smartphone.

National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

And there’s more. Many businesses use WhatsApp as a communication and support tool. Now, any voice messages that come in can be searched, saved, and logged, without having to listen through them, one at a time. That’s better for business and hopefully will also mean quicker responses to us customers. 

Messaging services seem mature, their feature-set defined, but there’s always a neat new tweak to be made. Hopefully, this will come to other messaging services like iMessage, Telegram, and Signal soon.

iMessage seems natural because it can use the built-in voice-transcription features of iOS and could also work on the iPad or Mac, where listening may be even less convenient. And Apple already does the opposite: Siri can read out your incoming messages (and in iOS 15, your notifications) via AirPods.

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