Facebook is bringing voice and video calls to its flagship social networking service (Facebook app for Android/IoS or facebook.com), according to reports by Bloomberg and The Verge. A test of the service to selected users started on Monday, August 23rd. Its the latest attempt to fine-tune its communications features after spinning off Messenger as a separate app in 2014.
Facebook confirmed to The Verge that it is testing voice and video calls in “several countries, including the US.” The company did not share how many users will see the features or what this means for the standalone Messenger app in the future other than “for a full-featured messaging, audio and video call experience, people should continue using Messenger.”
Voice and video calls are two of several Messenger features that Facebook has introduced in its other products like Portal video cameras and Oculus virtual reality headsets. The company hasn’t said if it plans to bring other parts of Messenger back into facebook.com, but Messenger’s director of product management told Bloomberg that “you’re going to start to see quite a bit more of this over time.”
Facebook also started testing a limited version of Messenger’s inbox in the core Facebook app last fall. Messenger was once built into Facebook’s app, but the company spun it out seven years ago, forcing users to download a separate app in order send private messages from a mobile phone.
The new feature is just a test, but it’s meant to reduce the need to jump back and forth between Facebook’s main app and its Messenger service, said Connor Hayes, director of product management at Messenger. Hayes describes Messenger as the “connective tissue for people to be together when apart, regardless of which service they’re choosing to use.”
The new voice/video test is the latest in what has been a slow but consistent effort internally to integrate all of Facebook’s apps and services. Facebook is starting to think of Messenger as a service rather than just a stand-alone app, Hayes said. That means people will use the technology alongside other things — say, relying on Messenger to video chat while watching videos or playing games on Facebook. Voice and video calls that use Messenger technology are available on other Facebook platforms, including Instagram, Oculus and Portal devices.
Facebook first enabled messaging between its Instagram app and Messenger last September, and there are plans to bring the capability to its WhatsApp messaging service as well. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has argued that integrating the company’s messaging services is a benefit to users, letting them reach more people and reducing the need to download or jump between separate apps.
Critics argue that Facebook is intertwining its services in a way that could make it impossible to break the company up. Just like when Facebook unified Messenger and Instagram direct messages.
Federal regulators filed an antitrust lawsuit last week to try and force Facebook to spin off its Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions.