Whatsapp, we have a problem

I’m a WhatsApp power user. I spend about an hour on it every day, most of the time viewing photos and videos that others have shared. But the video experience on WhatsApp leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve noticed the following problems on the Android app. The first problem is when you try to play a video in a chat, the app exits the chat to open the Android default media player. To go back to the chat you have to press the back button. WhatsApp could reduce a lot of friction through an in-chat video player.

The second problem lies in the fact that WhatsApp saves photos and videos to my phone’s local storage. It’s among the most storage hungry apps and doesn’t play well with the puny 8GB storage on my phone. I often receive about 10MB of photos and videos a day and sometimes up to 50MB. As a result, storage on my phone dwindles until my phone stops working. One time I caught WhatsApp occupying almost 1GB of storage!

A ‘Good morning’ photo card, popular among Indian Whatsapp users

To fix the problem I use the Google Photos app to back up certain photos and videos to the cloud. Before I figured out the Google Photos fix, I relied on Android App Settings to clear out WhatsApp data. There’s another problem with deleting WhatsApp media — once you delete something it’s gone…forever! There is no option to re-download content.

Recently I threw in the towel and disabled media auto-download. So now I have to download each video before I can view them. It’s not the best experience but I’m happy not having to deal with my phone running out of storage.

There are a few things WhatsApp could do to reduce demands on phone storage. I’ve solved similar problems in video apps — http://wompwomp.co and another app in beta . Here are a couple of ideas:

Approach #1 : Restrict WhatsApp’s usage of phone storage to about 100MB. 100MB ought to be enough to store videos and photos received in the last week. Also allow the user to re-download media if it’s not on phone storage. Pros: storage need capped at 100MB. Cons: if a video has been auto-deleted but the user wants to view it, the video has to be re-downloaded thus using up extra bandwidth

Approach #2: Get rid of video file download altogether. Instead transcode video files to streaming format on the backend and support streaming playback in the app. Pros: low storage needs and low initial latency for playing long videos. Cons: requires more user data bandwidth and doesn’t support offline viewing.

I find WhatsApp to be indispensable. With better video playback experience and low storage demands WhatsApp could become a lot more pleasurable to use.