Facebook Messenger App: Why?


That didn't take long. Facebook Messenger has already hit No. 1 in Apple's ranking of top free apps, just a day (mere hours?) after the social networking powerhouse rolled out the app. Then again, Facebook could launch a test pattern app and it would jump to the top of the App Store charts based on curiosity and the size of Facebook's user base.

The first question that sprang to mind was, why a standalone messaging app? Why not just incorporate any new communications features into the existing Facebook app? To create more of a splash by introducing a new mobile "product" and grab back some of the buzz stolen away by Google+ of late? That could certainly be one reason.

Google earlier this week updated the Google+ app to expand the functionality for the chat services in its rival social network as well as adding iPad compatibility. Last month, Facebook scrambled to add video chat though a deal with Skype not long after Google+ began gaining rapid uptake, in part because of its group video chat feature. So the new Facebook Messaging app is certainly a way to help maintain mindshare against Google and compete with popular messaging apps like GroupMe.

Based on comments posted to the App Store, some users are already expressing annoyance at Facebook's launching of a standalone messaging app. "It needs to show online contacts within the messenger app itself. I hate having to switch between the two apps (the other one being Facebook)," read one. "Not what I was expecting. I feel the Facebook app is good enough," stated another. "Only thing I noticed was that you could add a location to each message."

According to Mashable, Facebook eventually plans to integrate all of the Messenger app's features into its main app, but felt that releasing a dedicated messenging app was still useful for millions of its mobile users. And overall, the new app has earned a very respectable 3.5 out of five stars in the App Store.

"Messenger is a separate app, so it only takes one click to get to your messages or send a new one. Messages are delivered through notifications and texts, so your friends are more likely to get them right away," noted a Facebook blog post yesterday, emphasizing convenience for on-the-go users. Plus, the app can be used to send messages to anyone, even if they're not on Facebook.

Another question raised by the Messenger app is its impact on SMS text messaging. Blogosphere headlines have already declared the death of SMS at Messenger's hands as the masses flock to Facebook's free alternative. Comments in the App Store suggest that dire prediction isn't wholly unfounded. "Goodbye texting! Hello free 1:1 messages and group chats!" read one.

But while that online Cassandras pronounced SMS dead after Apple introduced iMessage in June for messaging among iOS devices, it seems SMS is still with us. According to the latest data from comScore, text messaging remains by far the most popular mobile content activity, with about 70% texting. So conjecture about the demise of SMS may be premature for now.

There's also been a rumor Facebook plans to release a standalone photo-sharing app. Hey, guess what? You can already share photos in the Messenger app! Anyway, let's hope Facebook doesn't keep issuing separate apps for every function included in its general purpose app, and others not yet conceived. Facebook Recipes, anyone?

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