Just over a year ago at the 2016 Facebook developers’s conference known as F8, Facebook Messenger was the rave of the moment. Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook execs gushed optimistically about the new features coming to the Messenger app.
Many people did not share the same excitement though. Look at it this way, Facebook Messenger app is, as the name implies, a messaging app. The world doesn’t need more of that. There are dozens of them fighting for our attention.
And what do you know, WhatsApp, the world’s biggest messaging app is already owned by Facebook. So why all the noise about Facebook Messenger?
Besides, for people like me, Facebook Messenger doesn’t make sense. I can chat with my Facebook friends on the Web version of Facebook. Dropping messages when they are offline can even be done through Facebook web. So the Messenger app seemed redundant.
Facebook knew what they were doing though. After all, the numbers favor them. Over one and a half billion people use Facebook by the time the push to make Messenger a dominant app started. They are going to leverage on that important stat.
Pushing Messenger app
The first move obviously was to give people a reason to use the app. Several updates and added features soon followed. Games were added; virtual reality chatbots were added. A digital assistant, known as M, was soon to follow.
At a time, the dizzying speed features and upgrades were rolled out were too much to keep pace with.
Along the line though, Facebook felt user-resistance to Messenger was slowing the pace of the growth of Messenger app. So messaging through the Facebook app was disabled.
Facebook users now had to download and install Facebook Messenger if they wanted to chat with their Facebook contacts.
It was a show of force from Facebook. Expectedly, people cried foul. Facebook insisted.
Obviously, that gambled of disabling Facebook chat from the app worked. The Messenger app saw a surge of downloads and just recently, Facebook announced that the Messenger app has joined the 1 billion monthly active users club.
Three of Facebook products now boost of over 1 billion monthly active users. Facebook, WhatsApp and of course Messenger. Instagram, another social forum owned by Facebook is close behind with over 700 million monthly active users.
Building the ultimate all in one app
At this year’s F8 conference, Messenger did not feature as much. Apparently, things were moving smoothly in the Messenger unit of Facebook. The ultimate destination of the Messenger app is in sight. Perhaps.
The upgrades that were rushed to Messenger app had one purpose in mind: to make the app the only one we need on our smartphones. Messenger has several addictive games like basketball, chess, and football. These are things you could pass the time with if you are tired of chatting with a friend.
Hundred of bots, including chatbots, have being created and introduced by businesses on Messenger. The bots can help you do anything from organizing your itinerary to suggesting the best place to take your lover for a date. These are important programs that get better the more you use them because they are programmed to understand, remember and anticipate your habits.
There are even bots that can help you make purchases from your favorite online stores.
The pick of the pack is Messenger’s own personalized virtual assistant known as M. It is a virtual assistant that is designed to do almost everything you ask it to do. And with time it is able to anticipate your needs.
These are early days for Facebook Messenger. As artificial intelligence and machine learning gets more sophisticated, bots and M would only get better.
However, these are the things Facebook Messenger can do. What are the implications for the rest of the software world?
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A new operating system?
David Marcus, the head of Messenger app team, is getting in the news more and more these days. Mark Zuckerberg’s media savvy aides though, are doing a good job of making sure nobody forgets Zuckerberg is the Man at Facebook.
However, the man of the moment inside Facebook is the David Marcus. What he is doing might cause a seismic shift in the tech world, all things being equal.
Though Facebook is not saying it out loud, the world is been led inexorably towards a future (not too distant) where all you need on your smartphone is the Messenger app.
This is not a flight of fancy. By the time David Marcus is done, you just have to tell Messenger to open an app for you and it would do it. No tapping of menus or swiping of screens. Just tell Messenger what you want. It gets opened for you.
From that point, it is only a short jump to making Messenger a whole new operating system to challenge Android and iOS. And with over 1 billion people using the app at this neophyte stage, who is betting against a more sophisticated Messenger app attracting everybody?
Threading softly through the Android and iOS minefield
At this point, no Facebook exec would be stupid enough to announce that the ultimate aim is to make an OS that would supplant Android and iOS. They need those platforms for the Messenger App to run for now.
So it is not in their interest to antagonize the two leading operating systems.
However, if Messenger became an operating system far superior to what Google and Apple have to offer, the world is likely to witness the demise of the two dominant operating systems.
Remember, once upon a time, Nokia’s Symbian OS was dominant. Nobody was able to entertain the idea that iOS and Android would someday make Nokia’s OS obsolete. But it happened in less than a decade.
It is very likely that Google and Apple are watching Facebook’s Messenger app very closely. Perhaps, contingency plans are already in place to deal with that scenario.
The next few years are going to be very interesting. Meanwhile, there are quite a few people (myself inclusive) who are yet to see the value of installing the Messenger app. In spite of the auto-notifications from friends on Facebook to install it, I still use the web version of Facebook to send messages to my Facebook contacts.
But how long are we, the rebels, going to hold out. I suspect it is not going to be long before everybody (including rebels like me) viewed Messenger as a must-have app on a smartphone.
David Marcus and his team would definitely make sure of that soon enough; they have the time and the resources at their disposal.