What has changed in the new 2.11.5 update
In a week when WhatApp made the headlines thanks to a piece of research that suggests it's the king of mobile messaging, the Mountain View start-up has released — finally — a version tailored to Apple's latest iOS 7.
At the time of this writing it isn't clear whether the App Store screenshots hasn't been updated in all countries or just left the old ones. The suspiciously named '2.11.5' is already saying this isn't a big release although there are substantial interface changes and some added functionality.
The first thing you notice after downloading the new version is the new app icon carefully designed to follow Apple's iOS 7 aesthetics. The new WhatsApp icon loses the gloss and background effects in favour of a simple gradient and brighter colours that match the stock Phone and Messages app. When you see the installation progress circle you might notice how the logo is not perfectly aligned but it looks aligned just like the old one. Overall it's a simple redesign that matches the rest of the home screen without bells and whistles.
Upon launch you get a number of introductory screens prompting you to update your profile with a profile picture and set how conversation backups to iCloud work. These are a great way to introduce the all-white interface while reminding users to use these options. When you get in the app you notice how, in a very conservative way, the structure is exactly the same and it's only the interface style, the theme that has been changed. To put it nicely, a re-skin of the app you are used to.
Unfortunately, the chosen design direction is too close to the one imagined by Bas van der Ploeg on his iOS 7 design for WhatsApp. It's lacking some custom element that makes it feel more individual. All I see are standard stock interface elements, or at least it feels like it. In the first hours of use I can only see a missed opportunity here, not taking into consideration some of the cool ideas presented by graphic designers in my list of mock-ups for the app.
Starting from left to right following the bottom tab bar order is Favorites. The list now includes small profile pictures in circles, Helvetica font and the default interface tint you see in apps like Mail. I really like how the pictures help you to browse, making it a good improvement over the plain text view on the previous version. The status screen also follows the same structure and order, having the status labels covering more space taking advantage of this table list view style is designed. This section will remind you of the options on your iPhone's Settings app. The next screen Contacts also uses the same design as the Contacts app, so there's not much to say about it
The nitty-gritty has to be the chat view. Replacing the old squares with rounded corners are the predictable avatar circles, which I find really big and with some spacing issues. With my current text size settings each individual chat fits the name of the person in bold and two lines of text previewing the latest message. This is exactly the same content as the previous version with the difference that this view now struggles to fit the six latest conversations.
The chat view keeps your old background settings if you had chosen one or gives you the same standard default. I found this quirky and much better choice than the scary Viber owls.
@appfreak they added owls too on the background :D— Perjan Duro (@PerjanDuro) November 12, 2013
The chat bubbles themselves, which is arguably the most important thing in a messaging app, has a much lighter style. I like the new theme, making your messages greener, fading the time of the message a little and keeping the signature old double checkmark.
The first impression is that WhatsApp has taken a conservative approached and updated the app in the most basic way. When iOS 7 was announced it gained some vocal detractors, so it's possible the popular messenger app didn't want to experiment too much with its interface and upset its huge user base.