Facebook has added a recording feature to its Messenger mobile app, allowing mobile users to send each other voice messages without using their voice minutes.
In addition to the recorded message options, iPhone users in Canada are able to make voice calls via Facebook’s mobile app. Users can tap the “i” button in the app and hit “Free Call” in the updated app to call a contact. The feature uses existing data plans to record messages and make calls.
The voice over IP feature could potentially allow Facebook to compete more directly with services such as Google Voice or Microsoft’s Skype, which allow users to make voice calls and video chat for free or low rates. Apple’s iMessage service also lets users convert voice to text messages.
In the updated version of the app, iOS and Android users can tap the “+” button and hold down the red Record button to record a message. To send, a user simply releases the button when they’re done. A timer limits messages to 60 seconds. To redo or cancel the recorded message, the user can slide their finger off the button.
Facebook did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Adding voice recording features to its mobile app is a natural business step for Facebook, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. One of the social network’s biggest goals is to keep users engaged and active inside its ecosystem. Instead of making them exit Messenger to make a call or send a voice message, then, Facebook is offering users the chance for its app to be a one-stop communication shop.
“I’m actually surprised they didn’t do this sooner,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If you look at industry metrics, people tend to stay in Facebook longer than almost any other Internet-based application. Leaving that to call someone can be disruptive, so the next step is obviously to use that mobile device for exactly what it is supposed to do, call people.”
Right now, that calling is only available in Canada. If Facebook expands that offering, though, the feature could be a huge bonus for smartphone users that are opting for more data and fewer voice minutes in their service plans, said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence.
“Heavy Facebook users who have limited voice minutes but unlimited data, for example, would probably find it appealing,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Drawing those users is critical for Facebook’s business plan. Since going public last May, the company has been working to show investors it can remain relevant in the constantly evolving digital world, especially as digital users are turning more to smartphones and tablets and away from PCs.
“One of the big mysteries for Facebook is how it monetizes mobile, and this could go a long way to solving this holy grail of theirs,” said Kerravala.
Eventually, if it expands its voice calling options, Facebook could add short ads to calls or charge small fees to make money from the service, said Pim Bilderbeek, founder of Bilderbeek Consulting.
“This is a precursor to monetizing voice and video communications,” he pointed out. “I can see Facebook charging a fee for calls to and from the carrier networks, for instance. I can also see Facebook adding more countries beyond Canada.”
Before that, though, Messenger usage needs to grow, Sterling pointed out. Facebook has taken some steps to drive adoption lately. It recently allowed Android Messenger users log in without a Facebook account, requiring just a name and a phone number to download and use the app’s messaging services. It also launched Poke, giving users the ability to send messages that disappear after a specified amount of time. The app is meant to compete with the popular app Snapchat.
Only by steps like those, such as eliminating some of the barriers to joining Messenger and adding novelty features, could Messenger dream of taking on a service such as Skype, said Sterling.
“First, Facebook has to drive adoption and usage before it can consider ads,” he noted. “If it develops a large enough and engaged enough user base, it can make money off Messenger.”