In its early days, WhatsApp started as a messaging platform for individuals, and later expanded to facilitate group chats, quickly rising to become one of the hottest encrypted messaging apps on the scene. Rival apps like Telegram which were built around group chats have inspired most of WhatsApp’s changes of late. The Meta-owned chat app has been experimenting with different ways to show participant avatars in group chats, especially if they don’t have a profile picture uploaded. Now, we are seeing the company try another approach in this ongoing experiment.
For the longest time, WhatsApp did not have any profile pictures in the group chats — participant names or phone numbers appeared above the messages they sent. However, smartphone screens are now bigger than before and WhatsApp started testing profile pictures in group chats in August 2022 before halting the test. Although testing has since resumed, the avatar for people without profile pictures was just the silhouette of a person with a colorful background.
Popular WhatsApp beta feature tracker WABetaInfo now reports the group chats will show the participant’s initial against a colorful background if they don’t have a profile picture visible. This change is included in beta version 22.214.171.124 of the Android app and thankfully, the icon color associated with specific participants hasn’t changed — only the silhouette of a person has been replaced with the participant’s initial.
Current avatars shown in group chats (left); new avatar with initials spotted in the latest beta (right)
This change is rather subtle, but may help you associate the color-initial combo with the sender more easily than just with the color alone. It is a thoughtful addition, especially from an inclusivity standpoint, considering a fair share of WhatsApp users may suffer from color blindness or other visual impairments. With the initials shown instead of a generic avatar, WhatsApp could even do away with the phone number/name shown above each message received in a group conversation — a feature retained during all this testing.
We are yet to see how WhatsApp would handle the lack of a profile picture if the account name starts with special characters. However, that’s a fringe use case, but we are loving the overall direction of these changes. It will be interesting to see the look WhatsApp picks when the dust settles. Until then, anticipate more changes.