It was less than two weeks ago that Facebook rolled out free VoIP calling to Facebook Messenger for iOS users in Canada. The trial run must have gone well, as the company has now updated its Messenger app for U.S. users to include the Internet calling functionality. While there’s no word yet if or when an Android update with the feature will drop, it’s safe to assume that it’ll happen at some point, as fragmenting a feature set for an app available on both platforms would confuse users who can’t figure out why they can’t call certain friends.
The voice calling feature can be accessed by tapping the “i” icon in a conversation, followed by the “Free Call” button.
The feature is more of the same when it comes to Facebook’s strategy of wanting to be the service all of your conversations take place on. Whether you’re communicating via text, photo, video, Poke, or voice call, there is a Facebook app available that can handle the task.
While Messenger’s new calling feature isn’t going to replace the telephone number by tomorrow, it’s an interesting development due to the enormous size of Facebook’s user base. Over 1 billion people now use the network — to contrast, Skype had 145 million active users back in 2011. If Facebook is able to expand its voice calling feature to other platforms, including the Web, it’ll have the closest thing to competition for phone networks that we’ve seen in quite some time.
And the best, or worst, part about it (depending on how much you enjoy phone calls) — no need to remember a phone number. Just open Messenger, open a conversation window with a user, tap the “i” and initiate a voice call.
It’s not quite that easy, at this point. I’ve been trying to test out the voice quality of this new feature without much success, as I can’t find a friend I’m able to call. Every user I’ve pulled up so far as the “Free Call” button grayed out, which leads me to believe that the update is rolling out slowly, the user has Messenger for Android, or the user doesn’t have Messenger at all. I hope that Facebook sorts out its plan for voice calling soon: it should be a bit more effortless, and I shouldn’t have to worry about which device my friends are using. Perhaps those plans will become more apparent with time.
Have you tried out Messenger’s calling feature? What do you think?