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Facebook May Be Addicted to Apps, but You Don’t Have to Be

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Yahoo Tech
Facebook and Messenger logos

If you were worrying that your Facebook habit has been leading you to spend too much time in one app, that social network has a simple solution: Now it’s two apps!

This fission will see the chat functions of the company’s flagship title split off into a separate Messenger app. Messenger has been around for a while, but until now it’s been an option you could choose if you wanted such extras as free phone calls to other Facebook members. Now it’s mandatory.

Read more: 3 Flops From Facebook (And One From Twitter)

In unfriending the core app’s messaging features, Facebook is following the same playbook as other high-profile online services. Foursquare, for example, recently exiled the check-in functions that let you share your whereabouts to a separate app, Swarm.

And last year Twitter invited members to start sharing video not by adding video support to its apps, but by launching an entirely new mobile service, Vine, that can share clips as tweets.

Tablet displaying Swarm app

What’s so bad about one more app?
The Messenger move was not a huge surprise, considering how many other mobile apps Facebook has shipped — that many people don’t know anything about. There’s the Home Android app first seen on the short-lived HTC First phone, the artsy Paper app, the Facebook-for-the-famous Mentions, and the weird participatory photo messenger Slingshot. Those last three, products of Facebook’s experimental Creative Labs shop, are easy to ignore for most people.

Not so with Messenger. And every single app you add represents another icon cluttering crowded home screens, another item to flip through as you switch among apps, and another source of distraction from software-update dialogs cryptically advertising “bug fixes.” And since any one of those updates could itself hide a bug, each one slightly increases your risk of a phone’s battery life, bandwidth, or storage mysteriously getting eaten up.

(Note that this site’s publisher, Yahoo, is no stranger to app stores, with 15 current releases for the iPhone alone. Google offers 39 iPhone apps, and Microsoft has 34.)

Facebook says a division of labor between its main app and the separate Messenger app will leave both smaller, faster, and more reliable. I hope that happens.

However, even this recently after the Facebook/Messenger split, neither app feels noticeably smaller nor lighter. Messenger, for example, is accreting features quickly. It supports group chats, sending photos and videos, placing voice calls, sending voice messages, and dressing up messages with stickers. 

Then there’s Facebook PR’s rationale that Messenger means you’ll see replies from pals about 20 percent faster. That’s not because this program runs faster, but because its users send responses that much more quickly.

I asked what this 20 percent figure means in real numbers — are we going from a 10-minute wait to eight minutes or only knocking 12 seconds off a one-minute lag? — but Facebook PR responded (promptly!) by declining to elaborate.

Facebook page displaying an update about Messages

What can you do?
In use, moving to Messenger on iOS is innocuous. But on Android, “chat heads” representing active discussions float above everything else on the home screen, as if they were your single most important form of communication. I’ve already disabled them, along with a location-sharing feature that shouldn’t have been on by default.

The voice-message option, meanwhile, is redundant. I already have voicemail on my phone. And I’d just as soon leave the practice of communicating via stickers to my 4-year-old, who is much better at it than I am.

Fortunately, If you want to message people but don’t want to install the new app, Facebook has another channel to have quick text chats with friends: its mobile website, where that feature lives on without the multimedia gimmicks of the new app.

Or you might decide that the relatively rare Facebook message from a friend is something that can wait until you are back in front of a computer and can access the main Facebook website.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.