When Facebook took the unusual step of launching a completely new app for its messaging service, many raised eyebrows. Why not just use the Facebook app? Facebook Messenger is just another way to get to your Facebook Inbox, isn’t it?

Now, just a day after its release, that same pointless app is sitting comfortably at the number one position of the App Store’s Top Free chart. Maybe it isn’t such a silly idea after all, and here’s why…

By releasing Facebook Messenger as a free, standalone app, Facebook has taken the instant messaging fight right to Apple, as well as anyone else who’s trying to play in the space.

Apple’s upcoming iOS 5 will bring with it another entry into an already swelling market of instant messengers. iMessage, with cross-iOS device syncing of sorts offers a free alternative to the expensive SMS. (Messages should get pushed to all devices, and replies should show on all of them, too.)

Images and text can be sent between devices for free, and Apple has even added it to its existing Messages app, so people, in theory, don’t even need to think about it. If the recipient has an iDevice, iMessage will be used. If not, it’s SMS.

The problem comes with that whole ‘iOS-only’ thing. Whether we like it or not, iPhones aren’t the only handsets out there.

There are other solutions, like WhatsApp and good old IM services like MSN, GTalk and others. They come with their own problems, though. Separate apps, new log-ins, new user names, new fuss.

Then there’s Facebook’s new Messenger app. While it does force users to accept another app into their digital lives, it’s a Facebook app, and we all love Facebook, right?

Facebook’s familiarity also helps to get around other problems. For starters, everyone already uses it. 750 million users speaks for itself, and chances are everyone you ever talk to is already on Facebook.

It also means you don’t have to manage new log-ins and user names. Your contacts are already there, too, waiting for you to start chatting with. Can iMessage compete with a service that’s going to have apps available for every platform, and already has your friends and family set up for you? Probably not.

Facebook Messenger also has a secret weapon hidden up its sleeve, and that’s Skype.

We told you yesterday how the new app already has clues hidden inside that point to a video chat feature being on the horizon, and Skype has already jumped into bed with Facebook on the desktop. All this means Apple’s FaceTime is also squarely in Facebook’s sights.

All the arguments against iMessage also fit here — huge user base already, cross-platform — and it’ll probably work over 3G, unlike Apple’s barely-used FaceTime.

Unfortunately, Facebook Messenger is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada App Stores, though that should only be a temporary hiccup in their its plans for world domination.

One thing is for sure, though, and that’s the imminent death of SMS.

  • Bob

    Maybe Apple should quit lollygagging and release iOS 5 already and get iMessage out there!

  • AMB

    Death of SMS? No SMS isn’t going anywhere, many people don’t have FB (most of the planet), many people don’t have 3G internet or internet at all. SMS connects all the phones in the world regardless of what features you have.

    Until you have something that does exactly that, SMS isn’t going anywhere.

    • Tititi

      well said!

  • karl

    It’s not working so well for me. Some contacts are not coming up & some are not getting the message at all, bugs I hope.

  • It’s not just that, but Facebook Messenger app is really no different than Facebook’s app – it’s buggy, no quicker, and overall nothing new. iMessage is great because it’ll reside right in your SMS app and will differentiate iPhone friends from other friends automatically. Nothing required on our part.

    • AMB

      Yes. My thoughts exactly!

  • Bob

    John hit the nail on the head. Facebook only has an edge over services like kik, groupme, whatsapp, etc…. Data and smartphones are still a minority therefore SMS will thrive for a long time. Apple partly bridged this gap by making i

  • Bob

    (hit publish on accident!) continued: apple partly bridged this gap by making imessage seamless. IMO eliminating yet another message app will be a dealmaker for many. Personally, I use beejive for gtalk, aim, yahoo and facebook chat. Unless the majority of my contacts started using another messenger service then it’s highly unlikely I’m going to adopt another app (and I’ve tried them all).