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WhatsApp developing transcriptions to tame chaotic voice notes

WhatsApp developing transcriptions to tame chaotic voice notes

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Currently in the works for iOS

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A “Transcript” section lets you skip to different parts of the message.
A “Transcript” section lets you skip to different parts of the message.
Image: WABetaInfo

WhatsApp is developing a feature that’ll offer transcriptions of received voice messages, letting you easily read what’s been said without having to play it out loud. The unannounced feature was initially spotted in the service’s iOS app by WABetaInfo, and WhatsApp has since confirmed that it’s in the “very early stages of designing and prototyping” the functionality. It’s unclear when it’ll hit the WhatsApp beta for iPhone users or when it’ll come to Android.

According to a screenshot shared by WABetaInfo, the feature works by sending speech data to Apple “to process your requests,” not to parent company Facebook. There’s a disclaimer that this data “will also help Apple improve its speech recognition technology.” However, in a statement, a spokesperson from WhatsApp said the feature “will be protected by end-to-end encryption” if it’s released, and that the system is designed to maintain the privacy and security of messages.

A popup warns that transcriptions involve sending speech data to Apple.
A popup warns that transcriptions involve sending speech data to Apple.
Image: WABetaInfo

Voice messages are a useful WhatsApp feature, particularly if you need to send a longer message and aren’t in a position to type it out. But they can sometimes cause problems for recipients who don’t have headphones and aren’t in a position to listen to a message out loud, or if they simply don’t have time to listen to a voice message in its entirety. Transcriptions could let people silently see the contents of a voice message, or reference important details later without having to scrub through audio. 

WABetaInfo reports that transcriptions are saved to the device after they’re created, and that a “Transcript” section makes it easy to skip to specific parts of a message. That’s similar to other auto-transcription software like Google’s Recorder or Otter.ai, which let you click on a word to skip to the moment it’s said in a recording. Transcribing WhatsApp voice messages is currently only possible using third-party software.

At the moment, there’s no sign of an equivalent feature on WhatsApp’s Android app. However, given the level of feature parity between WhatsApp’s different apps, WABetaInfo speculates that it might also be on the way.

Update September 13th, 3:08PM ET: Added a statement from WhatsApp about the feature being protected by end-to-end encryption.

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