Facebook turns app into text messaging replacement

(Robert Kneschke/shutterstock.com)

(Robert Kneschke/shutterstock.com)

Relaxnews

, Last Updated: 2:27 PM ET

An update to Facebook's Messenger app, planned for global roll-out over the coming months, will mean that anyone with a smartphone will be able to message friends, whether they have a Facebook profile or not.

Starting with the Android version of the app, Facebook is to allow new users to create a Messenger account using just their name and phone number. The feature is expected to be added to the iOS version of the app early in 2013.

The change is historic as it is the first time the social network will be allowing non-Facebook members to access and use its apps. Yet the move is seen as necessary if it is to continue to reach a larger and more diverse (from an advertising perspective) global audience. But it is also a radical attempt to corner the emerging market for 'over-the-top' messaging-- ie, services that use a phone's data allowance or a wi-fi hot-spot to message.

According to the latest research by independent mobile analyst Chetan Sharma, after 20 years, the traditional text message is finally going out of fashion. US mobile phone users sent an average of 678 messages a month during the third quarter of 2012, down from 696 a month in the previous quarter. But it's not because people have less to say to each other. On the contrary, data usage is continuing to grow, and as more and more people trade in their feature phones for smartphones, the amount of text-based traffic is increasing but rather than sending SMS messages (each of which is charged for individually), to communicate people are turning to these over-the-top services because they are not only much cheaper, but also because they are not limited to sending 160 character, text-only messages.

In particular, WhatsApp, currently the only cross-platform text messaging app (on both Android and iOS) boasts over 200 million users, and rumors recently started circulating that Facebook was attempting to buy the business.

Changes to Facebook's Messenger app will enable users to send and receive messages free (depending on internet connection) between other app users and to get automatic status updates and news flashes from their Facebook friends. The feature will initially be trialed in India, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela and South Africa.


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