Facebook Messenger debuts today in Apple’s App Store, offering iPhone and Android users a unified way to chat in groups with contacts from both the social network and the address books on their devices.
The launch marks Facebook’s integration of Beluga, acquired by the social network in March, and specializing in group texting.
And this is the social network’s first standalone application for mobile devices, aside from the main app for Facebook. And it’s also free of charge.
“When you first log on, you see your existing messages, so it’s one-click-from the desktop to get to messagin. It offers a seamless mobile messaging experience,” explains Ben Davenport, a Facebook software engineer who’d joined the company amid the Beluga application. “You can start one-on-one or group conversations with anyone in your Facebook network and anyone in your phone’s address book.”
The service allows users to attach location information to messages, along with photos, in real time. Dialogues initiated on mobile devices can be resumed on a desktop connection, or vice versa.
“One of the things we focused on with this release is speed,” said John Perlow, another Beluga hire who’s now a software engineer at Facebook. “While you’re conversing you get real time mesages pushed to your phone, so there’s very little delay in this system.”
Right now, roughly one third of the 750 million people using Facebook access the service via mobile devices. So extending group chat capabilities to handheld devices seems a logical step in the social network’s evolution.
Readers, does the idea of having group chats on your smartphone interest you?