The text message might be 20 years old – but Facebook is now looking to hurry it into the grave. The giant social network, which has now passed a billion users, has just announced that it is updating its "Messenger" app for Android so that anyone can sign up using just their name and phone number, and then send messages to Facebook contacts via their data plan, rather than as texts.
The app connects the phone number and name to a Facebook account, and validates against that.
The move means that a potentially huge number of smartphone users will be able to pass messages back and forth in much the same way as texting, but without incurring the cost of an SMS as long as they have a data plan or are connected to a Wi-Fi network.
That, in turn, puts Facebook Messenger directly into conflict with SMS and with other "over the top" services such as WhatsApp, RIM's BlackBerry Messenger and Apple's iMessage.
Of those established ones, WhatsApp is the biggest – and the only cross-platform one – with an estimated 250m users, but the advent of Facebook Messenger on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry means that the social network could eclipse all of them, as well as working across multiple smartphone platforms.
The new version is available on Android today, and Facebook says that "Messenger accounts will become available over the next few weeks". A spokesperson said that "The feature will be available first on Android in Australia, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Venezuela and roll out globally in the coming weeks."
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