Facebook Messenger’s video calling app isn’t the peak of the current technology. It is, however, a mark of how far video calling has come as an everyday form of communication.
It’s now essential. A messaging app that doesn’t have video calling is a dinosaur, and extinction is near. WhatsApp, SnapChat, WeChat, Viber, LINE, and others all have a form of video calling, and now social media’s heavyweight champ, Facebook, has it too.
Facebook’s approach to video calling is the key here. It’s functional, it caters for group calls, and it’s easy to use, but it doesn’t bother trying to mess around with the standard video calling format.
Rather, it positions video as just another way to communicate. Messenger’s overall goal is to link with its parent and its more famous sibling, Instagram, to create a single platform to capture all your social media usage.
Messenger’s video calling won’t change your life, but it might streamline it.
Facebook Works Hard to Be Everything to Everyone
In May this year, Facebook confirmed the inevitable, that its platform was exploring ways to obliterate the divisions between its users and those on Instagram and Messenger. Under the new plan users on one service will be notified in real time of activity on the others. The goal is obvious–users should never have to leave.
That attempt to be your social media one-and-only is evident within Facebook Messenger itself.
Once you’re signed up for the service–and it’s as easy as downloading the iOS or Android app and entering your Facebook details, or phone number–you can make and receive SMS messages and phone calls without leaving the app.
You don’t save any time by using Messenger in place of your phone’s existing capabilities, but you can access the app’s range of stickers, emoji, and GIFs. Be warned though, handing over control of these functions affects your phone’s default settings, making it harder to use them outside Messenger.
Sadly, there’s no such innovation within the video calling function.
Facebook Messenger Video Calling
Messenger’s video calling is no game changer, but it does have the three essential features necessary to a good video calling platform. It’s reliable. It’s easy to use. And, it caters for group video calls.
The user interface is intuitive, if a little conservative. Once you load up your contacts from Facebook or your phone’s address book you start a video conversation just by hitting the camera icon by their name.
As with Facebook itself, this is the key to Messenger’s future. It can throw you into a face-to-face conversation with an old friend you haven’t seen since high school within seconds. It’s a breadth and speed of socializing no other app can match.
You can group your contacts, much like most apps now allow, to make it easier to reach them all at once. Six people can share a video calling screen at a time, and the chat windows make the most of a smartphone’s relatively small space by taking the images right to the edge. I didn’t experience any undue glitches or screen freezes while calling between Android and iOS, which isn’t too surprising, as you’d expect a company as large as Facebook would get the tech details right.
You can add up to 50 callers to a video call, although 44 of those will have to wait off-screen for their turn to pop up in a video chat window. I don’t have 49 friends willing to video chat with me at the same time, so I can’t vouch for that feature, but it does seem like a chaotic process and I doubt there’ll be much call for it in a social situation–maybe a group Happy Birthday sing-along?
There are still some inconsistencies across the iOS and Android divide, such as 3D masks continuing to be an Apple-only feature, and some gremlins in the Android version of the simultaneous chat and video calling function. However, these don’t get in the way of catching up with friends face-to-face.
It seems like that basic communication is all Messenger was aiming for, and it delivers it well enough to satisfy social callers. Video calling is still an emerging tech and it will only gather momentum as more people demand it from their social media apps, so hopefully the very popular Messenger (it now has over 1.2 billion users) will help build that surge.
This isn’t a platform that will get experienced, frequent video callers excited, though.
Messenger Is for Facebook Only
If you’re looking for an exciting new way to make video calls, try one of the WebRTC-based apps currently floating around on the internet. If, however, you’re looking to add reliable video calling to your Facebook or Instagram experience, Messenger is everything you’ll need.
That’s the good news and the bad. Until a new innovation catches the public’s attention, maybe like in-app shared media streaming or Houseparty’s easily-navigated video chat rooms, Facebook just isn’t going to feel the need to go beyond the standard video calling functionality.
So for those of us excited by video calling’s potential to alter the way we communicate, take solace that a giant like Facebook feels the need to offer the service at all. Video calling is science fiction no more. Now it’s as mainstream as Likes and Followers.
Image Source: Flickr CC User Anthony Quintano
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