Now there is no need to choose whether to send SMS or a Facebook message to a friend. Facebook has unveiled Facebook Messenger, an Android and iPhone app dedicated to sending messages and texts through the world’s largest social network.
The app can send messages to your Facebook friends or any contacts in your phonebook via mobile. All of your messages, whether to FB friends or phonebook contacts, are stored in the Facebook interface and are accessible from both the web and the Messenger app.
The new service can handle both one-on-one messages and group chats for all of your multi-person coordination needs. Facebook Messenger is the first mobile application the company has developed and released outside of its official Facebook app.
The mobile app, which is the direct result of its March acquisition of group messaging app Beluga, is now available in the Android Marketplace and iOS App Store.
The app, much like Beluga, is simple and straightforward. Once users log into Messenger with their Facebook credentials, they’re taken to a screen with all of their recent Facebook chats and messages. Users can jump into any of their past conversations or create a new one. Messages can either be sent via Facebook Messenger or via SMS.
“It’s a mobile app about real-time communication,” Beluga co-founder and Facebook engineer Ben Davenport told Mashable. All messages are sent and received in real time — no refreshing required.
Users can also send photos to their friends with the app. It also lets you give message threads a name, for easier organization.
Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook product director, discussed the potential need for a dedicated client in an March interview, days after the Beluga engineers started at the Palo Alto, California, company.
“One click from the home screen is a valuable trait,” he said, contrasted with the need to open the full Facebook app in order seek new messages. “They’ve built specifically for mobile-to-mobile. Our messages stuff was built for a convergence between mobile and Web and e-mail and a bunch of other things.”
One of the key elements of Messenger is its alert system. Users can choose to receive alerts for new messages, or they can turn them off. They can also delay alerts for an hour or until 8:00 a.m. the next day. The alert settings can be tailored for individual message threads or for all messages through Messenger.
This is the latest of Facebook’s recent moves into personal communication: In early July 2011 it announced a partnership with Skype that brought video chat and group chat to Facebook. And while there is still no official Facebook iPad app, this latest move shows that Zuckerberg’s developers are at least thinking about different mediums for their popular social media service.
Similarly, Research in Motion has BlackBerry Messenger. And Google provides two services: Huddles, which is part of the Google+ social network, and Google Voice.
A dedicated app can be deployed on, say, your mother’s smartphone in order to ween her off of AT&T’s or Verizon Wireless’ texting services and into a free communication network that uses minute amounts of data.
“To people, it’s a bridge — like, ‘Oh, I already know how this works. This is great,'” Bosworth said. These types of apps “are taking SMS and moving it away from that closed-loop thing and into another space,” he added.
“This is an area that’s very exciting and hot and interesting,” Bosworth said. “I don’t think anyone has the answer yet. I think Facebook Messages is the very likely substrate upon which these things end up operating.”
Facebook admits its official mobile app will eventually have all of Messenger’s functionality, but the company believes that having an app dedicated to quick messaging on the Facebook platform is something that will benefit its millions of mobile users. And it could give other group messaging apps like GroupMe a run for their money. [via Mashable, Huffpost and CNN]