Facebook on Aug. 9 launched a new messaging application for Apple's iPhone and Google's Android smartphones, a program that extends Facebook Messages from the desktop and adds some of the functionality from group chat specialist Beluga.
Available free for download in the United States and Canada from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android Market, Facebook Messenger lets users send messages, including relevant context such as their location and photos, to contacts and small groups of Facebook users from their iPhone or Android smartphone.
Once users download the app and sign into it with their Facebook credentials, they can trigger messages simply by typing a contact name or group name from their contacts. The messages are delivered via notifications and texts to reach recipients faster.
Messenger is an extension of Facebook Messages for the desktop, so each text, chat, email and message a user sends exist in one place within the app and is also saved as part of any ongoing conversations on Facebook. To wit, users can see the full history of their Facebook Messages whether they're on their phone or computer.
Facebook launched Messages last November with a mind to cut down on some of the messaging clutter on Facebook by streamlining SMS texting, email, chat and regular messages.
Lucy Zhang, a Facebook engineer and co-founder of Beluga, which Facebook bought in March, explained the reason she and her team created Messenger in a blog post. Zhang said that it isn't always easy to know the best way to reach someone on their phone.
"Should you send an email or text? Which will they check first? Did they even get your last message?" Zhang wrote. "We think messaging should be easier than that. You should be able to write a message, click 'Send' and know that you will reach the person right away."
The ability to add location and photos will be especially helpful for ad-hoc group meet-ups for coffee or movies, allowing users to provide more info regarding their location to the group.
With Messenger, Facebook proved true to its word. When Facebook acquired the beloved Beluga, it promised to preserve the company's capabilities to let users conduct chat sessions via SMS from their mobile phones, and append locations and photos, in its own products. It has clearly done so with this Messenger app.
This also likely means that Beluga, which has remained open, will be winding down.
Messenger will also compete with Google's Huddle group chat application for the mobile version of Google+. And Messenger will eventually support Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry platform, competing with the BlackBerry Messenger app.