Facebook Messenger was launched today as the social network's first standalone app and it's available for free to both iPhone and Android handsets. Development on the app was spearheaded by the founding team at Beluga, which was acquired by Facebook back in March. Hence, it's no surprise that it integrates the group messaging features found in Beluga and aims to be a fast go-to communication tool that syncs all your messaging needs into one place.
Facebook's unified Chat, messages, mobile push notifications, and email system has essentially been extracted into its own app with the addition of group messaging that also allows users to add mobile contacts who are not Facebook friends. Being separated into its own app also makes it more convenient to access for users, which was an issue for Facebook's original messaging system that took several clicks within the Facebook app to access.
Once downloaded, users log into the app using their Facebook credentials. They'll see all their existing inbox conversations imported and they can immediately start new conversations by adding one or more of their Facebook friends or mobile contacts. For mobile contacts who are not Facebook friends, users can deliver messages to them via SMS. In this way, it's not required for all users to have the app, since messages can be delivered to your Facebook inbox or as SMS to your phone.
The app does make things more convenient, plus there's an easy to include your current location with your messages, making meeting up much easier. These locations are not published to Facebook but instead are kept private within the conversation. Users can also choose to receive push notifications for all messages, mute all, or allow only specific ones temporarily or indefinitely.
This will be huge competition for other popular group messaging services such as GroupMe, Fast Society, and perhaps even Google's Huddle. If you use any of these other group messaging services and decide to try out Facebook Messenger, let us know which one's working the best for your needs.