Facebook is rolling out video calling to Messenger today, letting users chat face to face with their friends by tapping a single button inside the app. The free feature, which works over both LTE and Wi-Fi, competes with similar products including Microsoft's Skype, Google Hangouts, and Apple's FaceTime. It's meant for the average user, but should also prove useful to Facebook as it continues developing its Facebook for Work service.
From a product standpoint, there isn't much to say about video calling in Messenger. From any of your chats, you simply tap the video camera icon to start a call. Once the call has started, you can switch back and forth from the front-facing and rear cameras, or turn your camera off entirely. Stan Chudnovsky, Messenger's head of product, says Facebook's developers focused on making video work well even on relatively low-bandwith cell networks. In a demonstration, call quality was good even inside a building where we only had two bars of connectivity on LTE.
Keeping Facebook at the center of its users' communication habits
Video calling should help Messenger build on its considerable momentum: the product now has more than 600 million monthly active users, and they're making 10 percent of all internet-based phone calls. While Facebook doesn't profit from the calls, they keep the company at the center of its users' communication habits. In a related move, last week Facebook introduced Hello, an Android dialer and contacts manager that promotes using Facebook for more calls. Earlier in the month, Messenger rolled out a desktop version of the service. It's all part of an effort to turn Messenger into an Asian-style messaging platform like LINE or WeChat, which generate enormous revenues through e-commerce, gaming, and other services.
And as Facebook's business offering comes into focus, video could be a smart area of focus: I've rarely met a business satisfied with its video calling solution. (At The Verge we cycle hopelessly through every solution, switching whenever the service we're using inevitably drops the call.) If Facebook Messenger video turns out to be as good as Chudnovsky promises, it will likely appeal to enterprises.