The world's largest social network has today added free video calls to its Messenger mobile app. The move pits Facebook against already established video chat services, such as Apple Facetime, Microsoft's Skype and Google Hangouts, affording users yet another way to get some remote face-to-face time with the tap of a button.
Since the release of its Messenger mobile app in 2011, Facebook has looked to build more than just a mobile version of chat as we've come to know it on desktop. Just as WhatsApp won over disenchanted mobile phone users with a way around snowballing SMS fees, Facebook also wanted in on that free mobile messaging action.
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This lead the company to buy WhatsApp early last year, but not without continuing to refashion its own instant messaging service. It first added free voice calls in January 2013. Then in 2014 it coerced users into downloading the standalone Messenger app by discontinuing chat within Facebook mobile.
This year it has started rolling out a feature allowing friends to send money to one another through Messenger. It has also announced its Businesses on Messenger service, aimed at personalizing relationships between retailers and shoppers. Facebook now claims that 600 million people are using Messenger each month and it is giving every indication it will keep hunting for different ways to keep every one of them engaged.
There's no big surprises in the introduction of video calling for Messenger. When you open a chat window, pressing the video icon at the top right of screen switches the conversation from text to video. Users can flip between the rear-facing and selfie camera and also make calls between iOS and Android devices.
The feature is available today for users in Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Laos, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, the UK, the US and Uruguay. It will become available in other regions in the next few months.
You can check out the introductory video below.