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Facebook Update for iOS Adds Free VoIP Calling, New Button Styles

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The Facebook App for iOS has just received an update that enables the same Internet calling feature currently found in the Facebook Messenger app. This feature, which made its way into Messenger in the middle of January, places a “Free Call” button inside a user’s information page, and is accessible by tapping the “i” button in a message conversation window.

The user you’re trying to call will presumably need to have the newly-updated Facebook app, or the Messenger app, in order to receive your call, or you’ll find the Free Call button is grayed out and disabled.

Photo 2013-02-22 04.55.26 PMYou’ll also find that the update adds newer, larger buttons for the Like, Comment and Share actions on posts. The buttons for these actions now rest in boxes beneath the post, and are much larger than those found in previous versions of the app. The new buttons should do more to encourage commenting and sharing through the app, and will be easier to tap than before. I know that I had a few missed taps in previous Facebook for iOS versions, which caused me to accidentally like a post I was trying to comment on. The new buttons are a welcome addition in my book.

Facebook’s inclusion of the free calling feature in this update is an interesting one. In the recent past, the Facebook Messenger app has become a sort of “testing ground” of sorts for new communications features. The new contact list look was first introduced in Messenger, as was the swipe gesture to open the contact list. Both of those features graduated into the main Facebook app, just as the VoIP calling feature has done here. It’s a safe bet to assume that any future additions to the Facebook app that are related to messaging or calling will end up in Messenger first before being included in the main app.

It’s hard not to see the big picture in terms of the impact the free calling feature might have. Facebook’s messaging feature is fairly popular, and since most smartphone owners have the Facebook or Facebook Messenger apps installed on their devices, Facebook messages have become an easy way to contact someone without needing a phone number. When Facebook’s calling feature makes its way to Android devices, you’ll be able to call (or be called by) almost all of your Facebook friends without needing their digits. There are pros and cons to offering every single Facebook friend this kind of accessibility, of course, and that’s something that we’ll all have to keep an eye on.

In the meantime, you can grab the updated Facebook for iOS app from the App Store right now.

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over seven years. He covers consumer electronics, Web-based services, and tech startups. Read disclosures here.