Facebook Tuesday began testing a completely revamped version of its Messenger for Android application that allows users to instantly see which friends are currently using Messenger, and to send text messages via the app to friends or non-Facebook-using contacts who aren’t using it.
Navigation was also improved, as users will be able to tap across the top of the app or swipe left to access recent conversations, a list of other users they have messaged, and settings.
The update is being tested with a limited number of Facebook users who are currently using Messenger for Android.
Facebook said in a Newsroom post introducing the test:
As more and more people use Facebook to connect with their friends on mobile, we are focused on building the best mobile products. Facebook messaging started as a desktop chat experience, but when it comes to messaging on mobile, people want something faster and lighter-weight.
You’ll know which friends are using the app if you see the Messenger icon next to their name. If you see the Messenger icon, that means your friend is also using the mobile Messenger app, and will get notified instantly about your message.
Product Manager Peter Martinazzi elaborated on this new feature in an interview with CNET:
Other people didn’t know who had Messenger and who didn’t. That’s really important if I’m going to trust this channel as the way to reach (Manager of Product Design Luke Woods) in an emergency. Every millisecond matters when you’re messaging in a mobile-to-mobile world.
The Newsroom post described the text-messaging functionality as follows:
What about the people you text with who aren’t your Facebook friends? Now you just need a contact’s phone number to begin texting others using Messenger. To help people reach you, you’ll be asked to confirm your phone number.
And Martinazzi told Mashable:
In other countries, one of the big draws is going to be that instead of paying 10 cents per SMS or whatever the cost is, it’s free. But we’re hoping people in the U.S. are going to love it, too. And while the free-value prop is not the reason they’re going to use it, all of the other features are hopefully reasons they’ll like to use this.
Readers: What do you think of the improvements Facebook may bring to its Messenger apps based on this limited test?