Facebook launches CatchUp, app that lets you make free phone calls with up to 8 people simultaneously

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Updated: May 27, 2020 11:22 AM

CatchUp seems to be Facebook's answer to Houseparty. It lets you make phone calls with friends and family without needing a Facebook account.

facebook catchupYou don’t need a Facebook account to make phone calls using CatchUp.

The internal R&D group of Facebook, the NPE Team, has launched a new app called CatchUp that makes it easier for friends and families ( in the US to begin with) to coordinate phone calls or set up group voice calls for up to 8 people. While there are a number of group chat apps available to users today, what makes CatchUp unique is that it can tell you when users are available for chat, though you can do audio-only, not video calls. Moreover, CatchUp will not need a Facebook account to use the service — the app works with the list of contacts on your phone.

CatchUp does seem to take some inspiration from Houseparty because CatchUp users can specify when they are available to speak by setting their status in the app. This is similar to how the video chat app from Houseparty also lets you see who’s live by sending notifications when friends open the app and flagging them in the interface of the app as “here.”

Similarly, in the top section of its home screen, CatchUp displays users as “Ready to Chat,” with off-line users and other contacts listed below.

Facebook explains the intention of the app is to address one of the key reasons people don’t make phone calls anymore — they don’t know when someone has time to talk and don’t want to interrupt. Meanwhile, calls that can not be answered go to voicemails that don’t bother the recipients’ checking, which instead forces communication to go through text messaging or chat apps. And while video chats are on the rise, a phone call is often more convenient as users aren’t always ready for video, or try multi-tasking, not sitting in front of a screen.

CatchUp solves the issue of not knowing whether anyone is upset by a phone call by allowing you to see who is ready and willing to talk as soon as you open the device. As with other chat applications, users can also build and join groups of friends, relatives, and shared contacts within the device. Or as an alternative to using the phone, they may place 1-on-1 calls.

It’s as simple as placing a call. It’s just a one-button tap — not a complicated contact calling process, then “merging” calls as you do with the Phone app on your smartphone.

Facebook discusses the idea for the app that originally came up before the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent quarantine, but as a result of the pandemic, the NPE team has accelerated the production of the app.

While there are simple ways to make voice calls using the Facebook-owned Messenger and WhatsApp apps, the difference is that CatchUp operates with contacts from your phone. Users will need to download the app, but they don’t need to have an existing Facebook account — or any Facebook-owned company account.

The app also provides privacy features that allow you to customize which contacts would be allowed to access your 1-on-1 and group calls. The app comes from the NPE Team of Facebook, its internal R&D group focused on new app concepts that are launched without the benefit of being connected to Facebook. These apps need to stand alone and gain traction so they can stay alive.

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