Non-Facebook users will now be able to sign up for its Messenger app using just their name and phone number.
The roll out began on Android in select countries —India, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela, and South Africa — Dec. 4 and will go international in the coming weeks. Messenger for iOS also is coming soon, Facebook announced.
The move is a bid to broaden the social network’s appeal for those who are not Facebook users, Peter Deng, Facebook’s director of communications product management, told CNet.
“It could lead to other parts of the Facebook product — post a status message or share an album,” Deng said.
It also makes Messenger more competitive with SMS, which just turned 20 this week, and other third-party messaging services such as WhatsApp, which only requires a phone number to sign up.
Deng told CNet Facebook hopes young people, who favor texting over e-mail, will opt for a more elaborate service from Facebook rather than the ordinary SMS.
“The SMS protocol has been around for 20 years. It’s designed for old phones, and it doesn’t take advantage of location or rich features like picture taking,” Deng said. “We want to let people connect to each other.”
With a new focus on mobile, Facebook has numerous compatibility issues to deal with, Deng said.
“Every single day, Facebook is accessed by 7,000 different types of devices,” he said.
Facebook describes Messenger as a free stand-alone mobile app that enables users to text friends for free using their existing data plan and reach friends on their phones and the Web.
The app also allows users to start group conversations, share photos and include friends of friends in conversations. It also informs users who has received their message and who hasn’t.
Messenger enables users to access their messages and chats as seamless conversations, receive free push notifications on their phones and switch between multiple conversations with in-app notifications.
Messenger is available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices and can be downloaded here.
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