Launch Center Pro and WhatsApp URLs to message contacts directly

Using your own Address Book IDs and profile pics

The new version of Launch Center Pro by Contrast's David Barnard is out now, introducing a new feature perfect for WhatsApp shortcuts. When last July WhatsApp introduced a URL scheme to interact with other apps, I found it was confusing and lacking some of the most useful actions. The initial setup allowed third-party apps to launch WhatsApp, open a new chat window and even add some text on the message. For most users, the real deal is to open a chat window with a specific user instead of selecting from a list. This is possible indeed, but it requires some work on your part and time with a PC.

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Months later, there is no easy workaround to implement URLs that launch chat windows with a specific contact. The only way I've tried that works is this method described on MacStories originally found by Ernesto Miquel. Following the steps described on the post, you can obtain the Address book ID (ABID) — which is a four-digit number that WhatsApp assigns randomly to the contacts on your buddy list. This is also device specific, requiring you to tweak your URL actions if you start using a new iPhone.

If you find the instructions too tricky, Gustavo Faria of Cocatech has put together some screenshots to help you to retrieve the ChatStorage.sqlite file and find the contact ABID without the iCloud step. In any case, just remember to select ZWACHATSESSION, which corresponds to the list of conversations you have on the chats tab on WhatsApp. Since you are doing this on a desktop, it might me a good idea to create a document with those ABIDs and match them to the names of the contacts later — you will only discover who is who when you test the URL on your device.

Using ABIDs with Launch Center Pro

While you can test WhatsApp URLs with the ABID on Safari, what you really want to be using is Launch Center Pro. The latest version has been redesigned for iOS 7, giving me the perfect excuse to tinker once again with the WhatsApp URLs. In fact, the new option to use photos instead of icons on the Launch Center Pro grid is perfect for this.

Apart from the photos, adding custom actions on Launch Center Pro is as easy as the previous version. Just create a new action and choose the Action Composer. Then select Installed apps option and scroll down to WhatsApp Messenger. The only two actions supported are launching the app — which we don't want — and sending a new message. The latter is the one where we can select individual contacts directly adding the ABID to the custom action.

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I choose the Action Composer route because is much easier to explain, asking you to enter the ABID you collected from the .sqlite file earlier. Although the third field, 'Contact ABID' is labelled as optional, it will be a requirement to be able to text a specific contact. If you just want the URL, it should look like whatsapp://send?text=&abid=1801, where the address book ID is 1801. Unfortunately, the app's explanation sends you to bit.ly/WhatsAppABID, which only makes this a little more confusing if you don't do some Google research and find the MacStories or Cocatech posts.

So there you go, with 20 minutes of your time and the latest versions of WhatsApp, Launch Center Pro and a SQL reader on a desktop you can knock up some fun-looking actions.