Given the number of free VoiP apps available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, Facebook’s free calling feature in its iOS Messenger app may not seem groundbreaking… except for its potential to bridge calling between desktop and mobile. Note the word “potential.”
If you’ve managed to keep your Facebook friend list limited to actual friends, you’ll avoid the app’s one hideous drawback: Adding anyone on Facebook has become equivalent to exchanging phone numbers. The friend-happy may want to exercise caution before hitting the “accept” button.
While it’s a nifty little app, its limits are notable. Currently, you can only call friends who are online and on Facebook’s desktop website. The app doesn’t change that. It only allows you to call those who are also mobile at the same time. You should be able to call anyone on your friend list, provided they’re using an app-equipped phone. In fact, you should be able to call people outside of Facebook’s world. I often use Facebook’s chat feature to reach my friends who have Facebook’s Messenger installed on their smartphones. I can reach them easily and for free, regardless of the device I’m using. Without that ability, Messenger is at a disadvantage.
Enabling calls between desktop and mobile isn’t just about convenience, it’s smart marketing. Facebook’s not going to be taken seriously as a competitive communication platform until it becomes platform-agnostic. And, to continue reigning as the social network, it has to do everything it can to lock in users, giving them more reasons to stay. Trendier social networking sites are, after all, appearing more and more.
By offering more useful and pragmatic features, Facebook would create a tool set that users will have difficulty walking away from. Right now, closing your account mean saying goodbye to turgid political statements and blow-by-blow accounts of your second-cousin’s third wedding. It would be much harder to walk away from a useful, multifaceted and common communication channel.