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Three years after Facebook acquired Beluga and turned it into Messenger for smartphones, its dedicated chat app today got a version specially designed for iPad rather than just running as an enlarged iPhone app. Messenger for iPad features a multi-window interface showing a list of threads and your current conversation at the same time. Messenger had over 200 million users as of April across devices, but now Apple fans can mobile message on a larger screen.
Messenger for iPad comes with most of the Messenger features, including stickers, easy group chat navigation, and VoIP calling. It’s only missing the latest additions, including the split-screen selfie camera and tap-and-hold quick video recordings. Facebook hasn’t mentioned anything about an Android tablet version.
The app will surely be nice for Messenger users who are tired of having to juggle their iPhone while working or playing on their iPad. If you have both Facebook and Messenger installed on your iPad, tapping the Messages button in Facebook automatically fast-switches you to Messenger. You can then tap the bar at the top of Messenger to return to Facebook.
Getting more devices supported for Messenger is important to Facebook’s long-term goal of disrupting SMS and owning the mobile chat space. While Facebook is known for its News Feed and profiles, people only spend so much time a day sifting through broadcasted content. Direct, private messaging has become a constant part of many people’s days, though.
Messaging is also intimately connected to the concept of social networking and your social graph, which is why Facebook is so desperate to own it. Chat is a foundation that other social interactions can be built upon. That’s a big reason Facebook spent a stunning $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. Beyond just being a free SMS replacement that now has 500 million users around the world, it also included a status update feature that Facebook surely feared could steal attention from its feed.
For now, Facebook doesn’t make any money directly from Messenger. Instead Facebook uses it to promote platform lock-in. More devices means more people locked in. But Facebook has plenty of opportunities to monetize its dedicated chat app, and it recently poached PayPal president David Marcus to become VP of its Messaging Products.
At the time, Facebook said Marcus has “a track record of building great products and finding creative ways to turn them into great businesses.” That implies Messenger could soon be a source of revenue. Facebook could follow other messaging businesses like Line by selling stickers or the ability to upload you own designs. It could also earn money from movie studios, toy makers, others by offering free branded sticker packs like its recent Lego Minifigures pack.
An even bigger opportunity could be right in Marcus’ wheelhouse: payments. Messenger could facilitate peer-to-peer payments and take a small cut to make money. Right now, people around the world pay exorbitant fees, ranging from 1.5 percent all the way up to 20 percent for remittance — transferring money to family or business partners in other countries. People often use remittance to send money home using services like Western Union, MoneyGram, Telegiros, or Remit2India. If Facebook could undercut these services, they could claim a healthy profit while reducing fees for disadvantaged laborers trying to support their families.
The iPad is likely too expensive for people who would benefit the most from a cheaper Facebook Messenger remittance service. But each additional Messenger user grows the app’s network effects and gives Facebook more reason to invest in innovation and monetization for chat.