Facebook adds free voice calling to iOS

Feature was previously only on Messenger, only available in United States and Canada

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 23, 2013
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Mark Zuckerberg has reiterated over and over that Facebook has absolutely no interest in making a Facebook phone. I see this question pop up over and over, and he always has the same answer: no! That does not mean, however, that Facebook has no interest in being a customer's one-stop shop for everything it might need on mobile, and that includes making calls.

If you have Facebook for iOS, you might have noticed that the app had an update went and added an interesting new feature on Friday

In version 5.5, Facebook has updated its app so that user can "call friends for free right from Facebook (US and Canada)."

This function had previously on been available on Facebook's stand-alone Messenger app for iOS. In January, Facebook began to roll out its free voice calling service to users in the United States, following a trial in Canada that began in earlier in the month.

This move is obviously part of Facebook's mobile strategy to get more out of mobile.

It in its most recent quarterly earnings report, mobile MAUs (monthly active users) were 680 million, an increase of 57% year-to-year. Mobile DAUs (daily active users) exceeded Web DAUs for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2012. Mobile revenue was $306 million for the quarter, representing approximately 23% of total advertising revenue, up from approximately 14% of advertising revenue in the third quarter of 2012.

And yet, analysts, like J.P. Morgan's Doug Anmuth, expected mobile ad revenue to be even higher. Anmuth said that Facebook was being more cautious in its approach to advertising than he expected.

"Given that Facebook exited 3Q at a quarterly Mobile run-rate ($3M/day), we were surprised to see Mobile ad revenue at $306M for the quarter, an average of $3.3M/day. We believe marketer demand for Facebook’s Mobile News Feed ads continues to increase, but Facebook is likely gating inventory more than we had anticipated. We believe the company wants to see ongoing improvements in ad quality in order to increase ad load," he wrote. 

Facebook must be thinking that it will increase its number of mobile users, and its advertising numbers, by allowing them to call people on their list that they might want to contact but whose number they might not have. 

Is this a good idea?

In a small way, I can see this being a useful feature. If you have an old friend you want to call, but they may have a new number, then you can easily find them. But I can see more reasons why this feature will be ineffective and/or ultimately a bad thing.

First of all, people in my generation do not call each other. We text, we Facebook message, we G-chat, we even sometimes e-mail. But call? It's pretty rare that someone who wants to talk to me calls me, unless it is urgent. Most things just aren't that important.

Secondly, I don't want people calling me unless I specifically gave them my phone number. And I have a strong feeling that many other people feel the same way. So, ultimately, this feature may turn off a lot of people if they start getting calls from random Facebook friends they haven't seen in ten years. In fact, it might even spurn users to do a friends purge of all those people they don't know well enough to start calling them all the time.

In addition to the new voice calling, Facebook also added a couple of other features to the app: improved buttons to like, comment and share posts. It also made the share button to re-post stories from your News Feed now available in all languages.

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