Facebook today released an update for its standalone Messenger app to allow users to record and send each other voice messages. The company also announced that it would begin testing free voice over IP services for iOS users in Canada.
These updates give users new ways to communicate through Facebook and fewer reasons to use other apps and services, whether it’s their traditional phone line or other free apps. The social network is in a position to connect people through a single identity rather than through phone numbers, of which people can have multiple (work, home and cell) and that can change when a person moves or makes other changes in their life.
There are costs and other frustrations associated with cellular plans that can be reduced by VoIP solutions. However, existing voice apps like Skype, HeyTell or Voxer generally require both parties to have downloaded the app and created accounts in order to communicate for free. For Facebook this is less of a hurdle because of the ubiquity of the service.
Android and iOS users with the latest version of Messenger can send each other voice messages up to one minute long. This feature is similar to mobile walkie-talkie apps, which can be used for fun or utility, for example when a user doesn’t want to type a long message or doesn’t want to interrupt someone with a phone call.
In Messenger, users tap the ‘+’ next to the message box, then hold down the record button. When they release the record button, the audio is ready to be sent. Messages can be played via mobile or desktop, but they can only be recorded from the mobile Messenger app.
With the VoIP test in Canada, iPhone users can open a conversation with the person they want to call by tapping the ‘i’ button in the top right corner of the Messenger app, and then tapping “Free Call.” The call, however, contributes to people’s data usage.
Today’s push into voice communications has been anticipated for years. In January 2011, Facebook tested a desktop-based voice chat feature that never rolled out very widely. In August that year Skype’s Vice President Neil Stevens said a Skype/Facebook mobile calling app would become available and code in Messenger hinted that video calling could become part of the app, but neither materialized.
Facebook has a partnership with Skype to provide video calling on Facebook.com, but it did not work with the Microsoft company for this new mobile VoIP product.
In November 2012, French telecommunications company Orange today announced a partnership with Facebook to offer “Party Call,” a social calling application for mobile and desktop. A number of mobile voice apps already connect with Facebook to help users find their friends to chat with.