WhatsApp could soon transcribe your rambling voice messages

Do you have friends that treat your precious WhatsApp account as a surrogate voicemail service, sending you long, rambling voice messages when a simple text would do? 

Well, it looks like actually needing to listen to those clips will soon be a thing of the past, if a new feature in development spotted by WABetaInfo is considered fit for human consumption.

Using speech recognition software, the app will attempt to transcribe any voice recording it receives, so you can read it at your leisure. Rather neatly, the screenshots included by the site also show that you can jump to a certain point in the audio by tapping the timestamp in the transcription. Useful for picking up on tone or, more likely, finding out that “pea stalks” actually meant “peace talks.”

Of course, WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to privacy, and perhaps it’s for that reason that the company doesn’t appear to be handling transcription itself. Instead, the screenshots obtained by WABetaInfo show the user being required to let Apple process the request.

That could make this feature an exclusive for iPhone users, though it’s also possible that WhatsApp is working on something similar with Android. Google, the brains behind Android, does have some experience with voice-to-text technology, after all — not only with Google Assistant, but also the transcription app that ships with all Pixel handsets.

Either way, it’s a useful feature for longer voice recordings, letting you skim the entire message without having to constantly dip in and out of the audio with an inexact scrubbing bar. It’s also handy for people temporarily unable to listen to a voice recording, like those surreptitiously checking their phones in meetings. 

While there’s no word on how quickly these transcriptions will be completed, something like Otter.ai can (imperfectly) convert speech to text in a matter of seconds — or minutes if you have particularly long files to transcribe. Hopefully your friends won’t put such limits to the test if and when the feature rolls out to an iPhone near you.

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