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Facebook launches Messenger app, targeting RIM -- and, to some extent, SMS

Facebook's new standalone Messenger app may compete less with Apple's iMessenger than RIM's BBM. As for mobile operators, Messenger will use carrier text messaging but is also positioned to dislodge it.

Facebook has released an application — separate from its core social-networking mobile app — that it's calling a "faster way to message on mobile." Now available for the iOS and Android mobile platforms, the free Messenger app offers an easy way to send messages to individuals or groups, whether they're capital-F Friends or just phone contacts.

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Should mobile operators be worried? Not yet. Though Facebook Messenger competes with operator text messaging services for mind-share with users, it relies on email messages and SMS to deliver a good part of its functionality (in particular messages to people who are not your Facebook friend or do not have the app installed). Ubiquity remains SMS’ calling card and difference maker.

Messages are delivered as notifications and texts, and the app — essentially an extension of Facebook — strings together all correspondences, whether texts, chats, emails or messages. Images can also be included in message, and so can GPS-based location data, so the people included in the chat can find each other.

After some poking around in the app's code, 9to5Mac reports that a video component is also included the app, and so should be expected eventually as well.

This is one reason Facebook Messenger (based on technology from Facebook's acquisition of Beluga) may win mobile users away from Apple's iMessage, the new messaging platform on iOS 5. Other reasons: the Facebook app isn't limited to a single mobile platform, and the ability to use phone contacts to include people in a chat is simpler than the email addresses required by iMessage.

Facebook Messenger's more likely competitor will be RIM's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.

"Assuming that Facebook Messenger provides a compelling messaging experience, it has the potential to achieve a greater reach than BBM, WhatsApp, KakaoTalk or the as-yet-unlaunched iMessage," Pamela Clark-Dickson, a senior analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, said in research note this morning.

"According to Facebook, it has more than 250 million active mobile users, and these users are twice as active as non-mobile users of Facebook," Clark-Dickson continued. "In addition, the company has partnerships with 200 mobile operators in 60 countries. Facebook Messenger’s integration with Facebook Messages and the phone address book, and its inclusion of Beluga’s group messaging capabilities, also gives it a potential edge over all of the above applications."

Also benefiting Facebook's carrier partners is the fact that, unlike BBM, Messenger relies on email notifications and texts. "That means that the mobile operators will still generate data and SMS traffic, and revenues, from their subscribers’ use of the Messenger application," added Clark-Dickson.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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