WhatsApp is considering a massive change to the way it works that will benefit many users who would like to use a variety of their own devices to connect to the service and chat with friends. Simply put, the company is seeking to remove the reliance on a single device (your phone) and let you chat on an iPad, computer or second phone.
The issue so far is that WhatsApp accounts are tied to one device. If you change your phone, you need to switch that device and the old phone will no longer be able to access your messages.
In a Twitter post, Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp at Facebook, explained that the company has been working on this plan for some time and that the multi-device capability will make the experience much better for anyone using the desktop or web apps. His Tweet does seem to confirm that this new advancement is a done deal, but that initially this will be limited to the web or desktop versions of WhatsApp rather than allowing you to add countless new devices.
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One of the key problems with allowing multiple devices to access the service is end-to-end encryption. This is a key shared between the phone and WhatsApp which makes your messages secure and unreadable by third parties. To allow extra devices access WhatsApp would need to share your encryption key with each one. This presents some technical challenges, but clearly not insurmountable ones.
The current workaround is that WhatsApp for web, or the desktop app, are taking data from your phone and mirroring it. If your phone runs out of power then you will no longer be able to chat, although previous messages will still be visible. Moving to a different system would change that, allowing your iPad to connect to the same account as your iPhone.
According to a BBC article, the secret to using WhatsApp on multiple devices is down to having an identity key, which will keep a record of the encryption keys tied to an account. WhatsApp won’t store them in the cloud, but it will still offer message sync, so you'll always see the complete chat history, no matter which device you're on.