Facebook's got a two-front strategy for fighting in the mobile chat wars

If you had any doubt that Facebook takes the global messaging wars seriously – and paying $19 billion for WhatsApp is a pretty serious move – consider the social network’s decision this week to nudge more of its users onto Facebook’s own Messenger app for smartphones.

Facebook is discontinuing the feature that allows mobile users to exchange messages within the main Facebook app on Android and Apple smartphones, and instead will require users to download and use Facebook’s standalone Messenger app.  The change, first reported by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, will be introduced to users in coming weeks, although it won’t affect desktop or iPad users.

While that may not seem like a big deal, it’s a significant change for people who use Facebook a lot to keep in touch with friends on their smart phones.  Tech blogs are awash with complaints from people who aren’t happy that they will be forced to download and use a separate app.  Mashable even ran a list of “11 Reasons Why Pulling Messenger from Facebook Mobile is a Terrible Idea.”  (Most of the reasons were along the lines of:  The old system worked fine, so why change it now?)

But Facebook says the standalone app is faster and has more features, including the ability to make Internet phone calls. “Messenger is a much faster and better experience – we’ve found that people get replies 20% faster on Messenger than on Facebook,” a company spokesperson told us Thursday.

The difference may be important as Facebook battles for the loyalty of millions of users, particularly teens and young adults in Asia, who have been flocking to rival messaging services like Line, KakaoTalk and WeChat.  Zuckerberg has announced plans for Facebook to operate a stable of standalone apps that will offer what he hopes will be the most compelling experience for specific activities – including Instagram for sharing photos, WhatsApp and Messenger for chatting and Paper for reading news.

“Taking messages out of the Facebook app also lets us focus on making Messenger even better for everyone rather than working on two messaging experiences,” the Facebook spokesperson added.

Facebook still has two separate chat apps, in a sense, since it’s operating both Messenger and WhatsApp.  For now, Zuckerberg has said he wants WhatsApp to continue operating relatively independently.  And it’s clear that he wants to make sure smartphone users turn to one of Facebook’s apps first, when it comes to chatting with friends.

(Facebook image shows Messenger app on two different phones)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (341 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.