Mobile apps are great when you’re away from your desk, but there are times when you might just want a full keyboard, gigantic screen, and comfortable chair while you fiddle with your apps. If that’s the case, you might be surprised to learn that many of your favourite apps can run on a laptop or desktop with very little fuss. Here’s how you can get started.
Facebook launched Messenger for the web more than a year ago, but there are still plenty of people that are totally oblivious to its existence. If you’re the type of person that is constantly typing out responses to messages from your friends all day, we strongly recommend you start doing it using a full-sized keyboard.
There are plenty of other reasons to prefer the web app, too. For example, you don’t have the News Feed distracting you, and you get access to a shared photos stream for each conversation, as well as extra customisation options not available on the main website.
For those of you on Windows 10, there’s an official Messenger universal app you can use as well. Obviously, it integrates neatly into the Windows notification system, and you get pretty much all the features you’ll find on your phone (including support for inline GIFs).
Away from the official, Facebook-approved options there are also a ton of third-party alternatives you can use, too. Most of them just provide app wrappers around the web interface. For example, you can try Messenger for Mac or Messenger for Desktop for typing responses on your laptop.
For a long time, Instagram was strictly a mobile-only app. Then in 2012, it launched some very basic web profiles. While the official Instagram online app is still relatively sparse and limited in functionality, it’s added some polish and new features since it first appeared.
You can get at your photo stream, add comments and likes, and view your profile. At the moment there’s no option to upload photos from the desktop, but you can search through other people’s pictures, see your notifications, and access a version of the Explore page.
As for genuine desktop apps, Ramme is a relatively new option that gives you more or less the same features as Instagram on the web. You can’t post pictures to your feed, but you can do just about everything else, including searching for pictures and adding comments.
There are a bunch of apps out there that let you post to your Instagram feed from a computer (or at least claim to), but Flume for Mac is just about the only one we’ve tried that seems reliable and intuitive (and it looks gorgeous as well, which always helps).
WhatsApp has official support for desktops and laptops through its web app, though your phone needs to have WhatsApp up and running for it to work successfully. You can edit your profile and status, get desktop notifications, send files and emojis and more.
To get started, launch WhatsApp on your phone. On Android, tap the menu button (three dots), then WhatsApp Web; on iOS, the same option is available on the settings page inside WhatsApp. In both cases you need to scan a QR code on the web to get connected.
As with Facebook Messenger, it’s a lot easier to power through your messaging duties with a full-sized keyboard in front of you. You obviously don’t have to keep fishing your phone out of your pocket, either. Conversations can be easily archived or muted if needed.
Earlier this year WhatsApp added a true desktop app to the mix, available for Mac or Windows, giving you another option. It’s pretty much identical to the web version, and is set up in the same way, but integrates more neatly with the rest of your desktop OS.
Other apps, and other options
We don’t have space to cover every mobile app out there, and some of them just don’t have desktop or web tools available. Snapchat, for example, is still very much a mobile exclusive, which means your only option is to run some kind of emulator tool for it.
The Bluestacks Android emulator is one of the most popular ways of getting apps up and running on a Windows or Mac PC, and it has instructions for Snapchat. A variety of other apps can be quickly set up too, including Instagram and Line, with just a few clicks.
Bluestacks sets up a new virtual Android phone and one potential problem is that Snapchat accounts can only be used on one device at a time. You might not mind having to switch from PC to phone, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re going to try it.
Meanwhile, some third-party desktop programs handle several mobile apps at once. Take Franz (for Windows, Mac and Linux), which can tie into Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram. It’s another option for getting at your mobile apps through the desktop.