by Tomio Geron, Forbes Magazine
After building out its Messenger app to focus on communications, Facebook is now focusing on voice calls and voice messages. It’s the latest in Mark Zuckerberg’s “mobile first” push for Facebook, and one of a number of recent moves in mobile communications. While the Facebook status update is nice, the social network is looking to build a much broader set of tools for people to communicate with.
Users of Facebook’s Messenger app for iOS and Android can now send voice messages, after an update Thursday. Users can tap the “+” button then hold the “record” button to record a message. Releasing the button immediately sends the message. Sliding your finger off the button cancels the message.
Facebook is also testing a new feature that enables free voice calls using the Messenger app–right now this only works in Canada and only on the iOS app. Using this new test, people can tap the “i” in the top right corner of the app and then tap “Free Call.” This only works with the version of the app released today.
The free calling is just the latest news that shows Facebook’s much larger ambitions in mobile communications. The Facebook Messenger app is not just about sending a traditional Facebook message. You can now send a voice message. And in the future, if Facebook expands beyond the test phase, you could make a free call from the app.
Facebook also recently opened up its Messenger app to people who don’t even have a Facebook account–all the better to add new users quickly in emerging markets where Facebook is seeking to grow quickly and add SMS functionality. SMS is a major sector that many are going after, seeking to be the next generation of mobile communications. Facebook also recently launched Poke, a SnapChat competitor that lets users send photos, videos or text messages that disappear after several seconds.
Others such as Skype, now part of Microsoft, and Google Voice, offer voice calling functionality, as do a number of startups. And Apple’s iMessage includes the ability to convert voice to text messages. But Facebook wants its users to communicate on Facebook, rather than other services. For Facebook, the communications piece is crucial, as Facebook has always been a place for people to keep in touch via photos or status updates. Naturally then, Facebook would want people to be able to click to send a text message or phone call without leaving to a rival service.