Facebook eyes bigger pie of messaging with revamped app

Written by Anand J | Bangalore | Updated: Nov 29 2013, 17:30pm hrs
Facebook, with its messenger, is planning to take on other popular standalone messaging apps in India, such as WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE and Hike with the launch of its new version of Messenger for iPhone and Android. The social media giant, which has around 82 million users in India, also launched the popular Chumbak Expressions local stickers this week with Indian content to ward off competition from home-grown players like Bharti's Hike.

With the explosion in usage of smartphones, more and more users are spending time on mobile devices, making it imperative for Facebook to provide a seamless experience across mobile devices, tablets and desktops. In emerging economies like India, the company is also seeing mobile-only users, a generation that has leapfrogged personal computers.

With the new version, Facebook has tried to make the app work faster on all the versions of Android, especially Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich, used in old and lower-end devices.This will work across various versions of Android like Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, and will be a lot faster than it used to be. That is because its every aspect is looked from a mobile-to-mobile world and has a lot of focus on performance and snappiness of the app, saidPeter Martinazzi, product manager for Messenger at Facebook, adding that the focus was on maintaining the standard acrossAndroid.

But Facebook faced problems in emerging economies because of the fragmented nature of Android that is more popular in countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil, which are also its major growth markets.Mobile monthly active users (mobile MAUs) were around 820 million at the end of June, an increase of 51% since Q22012, and it also had around 220 million mobile-only MAUs, 15% sequential growth during the aforesaid period.

According to Martinazzi, Facebook has focussed on the platform and tried to bring the best possible Android app. The app will now have a common navigation bar, an action bar on the bottom and a compose button, which are same on all Android phones. "We have made sure that the experience is not compromised even when you are not using the best connection. We made sure that the experience is as snappy in lower-end Android phones as that in higher-end phones. This is on top of the Messenger app, which already exists for feature phones. We have considered these as separate issues as the capabilities of the devices are also different. A lot of work has gone into the feature phone experience of Messenger," he said.

The new version of the Messenger will allow users to send messages to their contacts from phone, along the lines of WhatsApp, which has more than 350 million users. The Messenger app has been growing in prominence of late and is being increasingly considered as a threat to Facebook in gaining the attention of teenage and youth. The social network has been deemed increasingly less cool by teenagers, with Facebook being ubiquitous and the presence of parents on the same platform.

Facebook has tried to inculcate most of the features that are available in other messaging apps in the present version. "What we are trying to do is offer the best Facebook messaging experience one can possibly get on the phone. We have tried to deliver a real mobile messaging experience whether that person is a Facebook friend or a contact on your phone. We have made it easier so that everyone can use it at once. So, we have put every feature that makes sense, which our users are going to appreciate, for instance, group messaging," said Martinazzi.

This allows Facebook Messenger to be used by people who may loathe to join the social network. Though the social network currently demands a Facebook id to be able to use the Messenger, Martinazzi indicated the company is open to throwing the Messenger open to non-Facebook users. "In the past, we actually allowed people to use Messenger without signing in with their Facebook accounts. But, it does not mean we dont like the concept and will not try in the future when the right time comes. Now that you have the Messenger from which you can actually message your phone contacts, this might be something worth exploring in the future again as it is easier to jump right in, as Messenger is a way they communicate in," he said.

"The Messenger has always been a core part of the Facebook experience for a long time. Around two years ago, when more and more people started using Facebook on phone, we came up with a standalone app different from our Facebook app, so that users can have the best messaging experience on the phone. So, the dedicated Messenger app is all about the mobile-to-mobile experience for sending messages to your friends. We know that if the Messenger is well received, it will also bring people to the main app," saidMartinazzi. The social network has seen more than 10 billion messages being sent each day and is quardupling in under a year.

The new version of the Messenger will also show whether a user is on Messenger or Facebook. According to Facebook, every profile picture will have an icon showing whether the user has the Messenger app or not, so that you know whether he also has the same experience on the phone. A pink icon will indicate that the message will be delivered to the users Facebook inbox and that the person is not using the real time Messenger. And if a user is not inside the app, a new message will come as a notification, like a text message.

For the iPhone, Facebook has designed the current version around iOS 7, and Windows may also soon get the new version, Peter said. The company has also added a couple of languages on the iPhone and Android, and is planning to add a few more.