What really caught my attention by surprise was the third line “Call friends for free right from Messenger”. On further investigation I found that this particular feature was only made available to Canadians as Facebook tests out the loads on their infrastructure created by this new feature alone.
I had to locate a Canadian who was available on Facebook Messenger and who had done the same upgrade on his/her iPhone. I then made a call with excellent voice quality. Some images that illustrate the experience:
On the left, while the “Free Call” button shows up for all Facebook contacts who are “online” to receive text messages, the button is currently only “active” for Canadian contacts (who have upgraded to FB Messenger 2.1). The middle image shows the list of “online” Facebook contacts. The menu on the right image is activated by pressing the “+” to the left of the text entry window; in addition to the emoticons it gives the option to share photos or record and send a short voice message (<1 minute).
I was able to complete a test call to Randy where we agreed that voice quality was excellent; there was obviously at least a wideband, if not superwideband, codec involved. The call management bar gives options to use the speakerphone, mute/unmute the mic and open up a chat pane during a call.
While Facebook Messenger 2.1 for iOS also installs on the iPad, one only sees the iPhone size screen with the same features as described for the iPhone.
The concurrent upgrade to Facebook Messenger 2.2.4 for Android offers the emoticons, voice messaging and photo sharing; however, the “Free Call” button is not seen on the Contact Info screen.
These features are only available on the iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Voice and video calling between Facebook contacts, introduced in July 2011, remains available on the desktop Facebook applications (Windows, Mac) using the Skype infrastructure described at the time. Questions left outstanding include:
- Does this feature also use Facebook’s underlying Skype engine for voice and video calling?
(TechCrunch seems to think that Facebook developed a new back end infrastructure.)
- Will Facebook Messenger eventually add a video calling feature for mobile devices?
- How tightly will the Facebook/Skype relationship remain?
- At the moment Skype desktop clients show your Facebook news feed on the Skype Home screen
- Chat conversations with Facebook contacts can be initiated from the Skype desktop client
- Facebook contacts can receive voice and video calls initiated from the Skype desktop client.
- One can log into Skype clients on the desktop and mobile platforms via the Facebook login
Bottom line: Social networking is about engagement, whether asynchronous through text messaging or real time synchronous through voice or video calling. Facebook obviously sees the need to extend the feature set of its mobile applications by joining other messaging applications, such as BlackBerry Messenger, in offering a free voice calling feature. While Facebook sees its Canadian users as a test ground for it mobile voice calling feature, its availability obviously should expand to other countries soon.
And the larger question remains as to how tight does the Facebook-Skype relationship remain in light of Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft where both are competing for eyeballs?
One other question; while there was much fanfare about the roll out of video calling from within Facebook using the Skype infrastructure, its usage appears to have died out – or has certainly continued below the radar. How much will Facebook Messenger users use this feature, given the wider range of end points and general popularity of Skype and Apple’s FaceTime?
Finally Facebook Messenger is available for a broad range of mobile devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry (legacy OS6 and OS7 phones); the chat sessions are tracked on all of them, regardless of the originating device. Will we see Facebook Messenger with voice calling appear on BlackBerry 10, given we know it will have Facebook?
- Facebook Rolls Out VoIP In Canada on iOS! (Dan York at disruptivetelephony.com)
- Facebook lets Canadians beta test VoIP calling over iOS Messenger app (mobilesyrup.com)
- Facebook Testing Messenger-Based VoIP in Canada (And it’s Amazing) (iPhone Hacks)
- Facebook launches voice in iOS and Android Messenger apps, tests VoIP calling in Canada (thenextweb.com)