updated 02:27 pm EDT, Tue October 29, 2013
Redesigned Messenger distances itself from Facebook website
Facebook will be updating its messaging app for iOS and Android with a new design and functionality, as the social network moves to make Facebook Messenger a more general-purpose "mobile-to-mobile" messaging app. The next version of the app will be made available to a random group of Android users, before a full rollout over both platforms in the coming weeks.
Messenger's new design will be a departure from that of the main Facebook app, according to The Verge. "This is a refresh of the Messenger brand" claims Luke Woods, a designer working on the project, with the app showing a new visual style that appears to denote it as separate from Facebook itself. Small badges on friend or contact icons show that they too are using the Messenger app rather than the Facebook website, with the app also receiving some back-end changes to improve the speed of messages being dispatched.
As part of the update, it is removing the ability for users to send text messages from within the app. It will still have a use for them, as the app will ask for the user's phone number when it is first launched, and then adds people on the contact list based on whether the user has their number stored on their phonebook. "These are the people who you aren't Facebook friends with, but you have their phone number, like a classmate or coworker," said product manager Peter Martinazzi. This will also have the byproduct of potentially pulling users away from text messaging as the default way of non-verbally contacting others.
The relaunch of Messenger will face stiff competition from other cross-platform messaging services, in the form of WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, and Skype. Though it may have trouble attracting previous users unhappy with the way the old Messenger worked, the sheer number of users on Facebook could help it become one of the more prominent instant messaging services.