Facebook to force users to chat through Messenger app

In an effort to drive users to its standalone messaging application, the social network will turn off the Facebook chat feature in its main mobile app and prompt users to download Messenger to talk with friends.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Facebook is so intent on pumping up usage of its standalone Messenger app that it plans to kill off the chatting feature for its main Facebook app, keeping the messages button intact but automatically sending users out to Messenger when it's tapped.

The company began notifying select European users of its main Facebook app that in two weeks' time, messaging will be disabled and people will be prompted to download Messenger if they have not already. The company confirmed that this is not a test and will soon begin rolling it out worldwide, The Verge reports.

Android phones with particularly low memory will be exempted, as will Windows Phone and tablet users for the time being. Facebook Paper, the company's new news-focused redesign, will also keep in-app messaging.

While it sounds overtly forceful to push users out of one app and onto another, Facebook has already gone to great lengths to drive usage of its increasingly robust mobile app family. Even now, if users have Messenger installed on iOS, Facebook's main app will kick them over to it when they want to chat with friends. The only difference with the upcoming change is that users will be forced to download Messenger.

The process of moving from one app to the next, while still not ideal if you want to minimize the presence of Facebook on your smartphone, is relatively smooth and quick. On iOS, the Messenger interface happens to include a blue banner that, when tapped, switches users back to the main Facebook app. On Android, this is not the case -- nor does Facebook's main app force Android users to open up Messenger even if they have it installed. It's unclear at the moment whether or not Facebook's Messenger changes will be the same across iOS and Android.

On iOS but absent from Android, Facebook already prompts users to switch over to its Messenger app to chat with friends. Once there, users are able to quickly return to Facebook's main app. Screenshots by Nick Statt/CNET

For the time being, Facebook still lets you message friends within its main app using its nicely designed Chat heads feature. The update to Facebook messaging, which rolled out to the social network's main apps last year with the launch of its Android skin Facebook Home, collected your messages into a circular movable bubble of your friends' faces that can be expanded to talk or thrown down to the bottom of the screen to close it out.

Interestingly enough, although Chat heads works for all SMS and Facebook chatting on Android smartphones even on one's home screen and within other apps, the feature was only able to function within the main Facebook app due to Apple's mobile operating system restrictions. Now, with Messenger being pushed as the de facto chatting client, Chat heads for iOS will disappear completely.

"With this change Chat heads won't be part of the Facebook iOS app," a Facebook spoksperson confirmed to CNET. As for Android, Chat heads will still be supported. "Chat heads aren't going anywhere on Android, in fact people who download Messenger on Android gain chat heads because they were not a feature in the core Android app," the spokesperson said.

Update, 5:42 p.m. PT: Added comment from Facebook and clarified Chat heads functionality for iOS and Android.