Facebook Messenger, SMS and iMessage

Yesterday Facebook launched its new Facebook Messenger app for iOS that is a text messaging like alternative. In response to this launch MG Siegler stated:

But the service that should be perhaps more worried about Messenger is the still-unlaunched iMessage.

I read his post last night and liked it on Instapaper. Now this morning I had to remove that like and in thinking about it further I completely disagree with the notion that this service is a threat to iMessage.

Siegler lays out these reasons why Facebook Messenger is better:

  • iMessage is tied to email addresses (phone numbers on iPhones only) whereas Facebook is tied to, well, Facebook.
  • iMessage and SMS look the same and reside in the same app.
  • Facebook Messenger will handle group messaging better.
  • Messenger will likely add video features.
  • Messenger will be cross platform technology where iMessage will be trapped in iOS. The biggest component of this is working on Facebook.com.

Siegler makes a bunch of true statements, but the biggest reason — the biggest advantage — that iMessage will have is that it is seamless.

With Facebook Messenger you need to do the following:

  1. Be a Facebook user (there are lots, not a big hurdle).
  2. Download and install the Facebook Messenger app (easy on iOS, but Android?).
  3. Learn how to use the app.
  4. Remember to use that app over text messages.

It’s 2-3 that are going to cause the problems because it is a not a seamless process — the user much actively be choosing Messenger over anything else. Certainly it will get used, but not as much as iMessage when it launches.

The reason being is best shown with how you use iMessage:

  • Open Messages app (the one you already know how to use and is pre-installed).
  • Pick contact to send a message to.
  • Send message.

If the contact is using iOS 5 on an iPhone then you just sent an iMessage. There was no switch to flip or separate app to use. Yes, sending between email addresses can be cumbersome with people who have several email addresses — but so is figuring out which email address to send an email to with such people.

The problem right now is that a bunch of developer/power users are using iMessage and everyone of those users has multiple email addresses. This is not the case with the average user and that is the segment that makes these things take off like wildfire.

iMessage may lose with the younger crowd that is Facebook obsessed, but for all those corporate types — the adults that loathe Facebook or don’t “get” Facebook — well they will be using iMessage without even knowing it.

That kind of seamless integration is how you push through change, not with standalone apps. Facebook Messenger may succeed, but it’s not going to hurt iMessage.

Originally posted for members on: August 10, 2011
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