Imagine the convenience and reach of your Facebook friends list, combined with the VoIP goodness of Skype. That’s what a new iPhone app called Facebook Messenger aims to provide. It gives you access to Facebook chat on your iPhone, but also lets you call any of your online contacts for a VOIP chat.
Facebook Messenger ($2.99), created by Crisp App, works between iPhone and iPod touch devices, and between your iOS device and the web. Aside from providing a mighty tempting target for accusations of trademark infringement, the app lets users VoIP call online Facebook users on both mobile and web-based clients. On an iPhone or iPod touch (s aapl), they receive an incoming call screen with the option to accept or deny, or a push notification if the app isn’t open. On the web, your chat target will receive a link asking them to accept your call, which will transfer them to a web page for handling the call. The recipient can take part in the call so long as they have a computer with a microphone and speakers.
I tried out the app calling between iPhones and to the desktop. Both had roughly the same voice quality, which was quite good. The only issue was that both the other caller and I experienced significant delay between when we spoke, and when the other caller heard what we said. There was also an echo effect, so you could hear what you’d just said repeated faintly after you said it. Also, in both cases, the time between initiating a call and the call showing up on the other user’s device or machine was considerable. If you aren’t patient, you might think someone isn’t answering, when in fact they haven’t yet been notified of your call.
Why then, should Skype be concerned about Facebook Messenger? Because despite early hiccups, the concept behind the app is killer. Facebook is already probably the de facto way a lot of people communicate, with a much broader reach than Twitter, and it’s becoming even more of a communication hub thanks to its recent messaging system upgrade. If Facebook Messenger can beef up its architecture to provide a smoother, quicker VoIP experience, it could leverage Facebook’s network to leapfrog to the front of the competition, especially if it can somehow integrate video in future iterations. Unless, that is, Facebook decides this is too good an idea and decides to bake the feature into its site and app itself.
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