Messaging as a platform is one of the buzzy phrases that has risen to mainstream prominence in the last six months. With a mix of acquisitions, new startups, and incumbents looking to capitalize on existing properties, having an IM client is just the starting point.
Which is why Facebook’s release of a ‘lite’ Messenger app should be seen not just as a way to get more users around the world signed up to Facebook, but also as another step towards a global ‘messaging as a platform’ client that sits alongside the regular Facebook service.
The app is designed for conditions where the typical smartphone cannot be expected to have top of the line specifications, where bandwidth isn’t an automatic LTE connection or a super-fast Wifi hotspot. Facebook’s Tom Mulcahy writes:
Messenger Lite is a slimmed down version of Messenger that offers the core features of Messenger for markets with slower than average internet speeds and a prevalence of basic Android smartphones.
SMS is still a key transport technology for a huge percentage of users around the world, but the richness of the web and the ubiquity of ‘basic smartphones’ replacing dumb- and feature-phones means that SMS is being challenged by more advanced systems such as Snapchat, Apple Messenger and Google Hangouts.
Facebook may talk of enabling empowerment and connecting the world, but Facebook wants that to happen through its Messenger platform and not its rivals. Thanks to its purchase of WhatsApp it has a significant presence in this space, but WhatsApp is a product that needs a ‘fast’ phone in terms of specifications and data. Bringing Messenger Lite to the market gives Facebook another seat at the table, and one that reaches a different market.
Saying it is ‘Messenger for slower Android handsets’ misses the point. Messenger Lite will bring more users into Facebook’s ecosystem, it will allow them to access Facebook services in the Messenger ecosystem, and it will offer developers a ‘messaging platform’ with genuine global reach.
Well played, Zuckerberg, well played.