Social media companies are in a bind when presenting on mobile: While Facebook, Twitter and their assorted peers have structured their desktop experience to serve as an all-in-one hub for messaging, media sharing and other forms of communication, that experience looks cluttered and difficult to navigate on a phone. So companies constantly strive for a pared-down, simple experience that keeps users engaged and not confused.
This week, TechCrunch reported that in order to streamline the user experience on the Facebook app, the company will phase out the app’s current messaging capabilities. If users are interested in communicating with their friends in real-time through Facebook on mobile, they will have to use the company’s separate Messenger app to do so. The changes have apparently started already in Europe, and will be rolled out over time elsewhere.
Facebook’s decision to remove messaging from its main app is bound to cause initial pain for users who are resistant to change (and reluctant to toggle between two apps to engage with a single platform), but it’s the smartest, safest choice Facebook can make to keep its service thriving on mobile.
Dropping the weight
Facebook’s mobile app as it stands now is a hulking, battery-sucking behemoth. It tracks location, constantly fetches data and keeps a whole host of features constantly running to push new information — and that’s before you factor in background tasks that keep the app going even when not in use. By cutting the messaging aspect of the app, Facebook can make its main app smaller and more usage-friendly.
This is a big deal for a few reasons (like battery sustainability), but the primary one is that a lighter app takes up less space, ideal for emerging markets where feature phones and smaller smartphones dominate. In order to keep growing, Facebook must capitalize on the emerging market — and a stripped-down app can help make that a reality.
By pushing Messenger into its own app, Facebook now has the space not only to incorporate new features into its main app, but also to add richer features to Messenger.
The Messenger app already offers more than Facebook’s main mobile platform, integrating with a user’s contacts to text people who aren’t even on Facebook. Within the app, users have a smoother interface to create group chats, mute conversations and even make a phone call over the app.
Meanwhile, Facebook can make its main app a better place to post and interact on the News Feed and the Timeline, rather than just acting as a hub. I’d particularly like to see an optimized Groups section and simpler Timeline browsing. By kicking out one of its main tools, Facebook can focus on optimizing other aspects of its mobile experience, and the app can do better without all that bloat.
Better cross-breeding over time
Of course, the end goal could be tighter integration between Facebook and its $19 billion acquisition, WhatsApp. While Facebook may never entirely absorb WhatsApp — particularly given the latter company’s worldwide user base— the standalone Messenger app is a great testing ground for Facebook to incorporate some of WhatsApp’s DNA.
Features like video messaging, contact exchanging and location sharing are great parts of the WhatsApp experience that would also be at home on Facebook’s Messenger, and could take advantage of Facebook’s video and Maps content to enrich it even further. Furthermore, if Facebook does decide to finally merge WhatsApp with Messenger in the long run, it’s imperative that the company does its best to pluck the best aspects of its acquisition early on to appease loyal WhatsApp users.
By spinning out Messenger, Facebook is future-proofing its mobile game and setting the stage for better mixing with its other products. What we as users lose in the convenience of a single app, we gain in a smarter, more tailored experience.