Messenger

Source: Facebook.

Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) move earlier this year to require users to download a stand-alone Messenger app wasn't received particularly well. Quite the contrary: People hated it. Messenger has racked up its fair share of negative reviews, but an incredible proportion of these criticisms are solely focused on the fact that users were "forced" to download a separate app.

Even now, Facebook Messenger is boasting an uninspiring 1.5 star rating in Apple's App Store. On the bright side, note that Facebook occupies three of the top six spots when including Instagram. Well, Facebook has just announced that Messenger has now reached 500 million monthly active users, or MAUs.

"Unbundling" sounds better than "forced"
Facebook hosted a public Q&A session earlier this month, with Mark Zuckerberg answering selected questions submitted by users. Zuckerberg took the opportunity to explain why the social network "forced" people to install a separate app:

Asking everyone in our community to install a new app is a big ask. I appreciate that that was work and required friction. We wanted to do this because we believe that this is a better experience. Messaging is becoming increasingly important. On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well, we think.

Zuckerberg also made sure to clarify that, unlike in The Social Network movie, he is in fact not a fan of appletinis.

However, industry watchers have seen this broader app "unbundling" trend play out for quite some time. Zuckerberg even discussed the strategy specifically in April with The New York Times:

But I think on mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there's a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences.

So what we're doing with Creative Labs is basically unbundling the big blue app.

Zuckerberg is right. Standalone apps are far more relevant in the mobile era, emphasizing convenience and ease-of-use. No one should want to dig around inside a bloated app to find a specific function (although apparently some of the app reviewers prefer this usage model). To that end, Facebook says its data indicates that Messenger users respond to messages 20% faster.

On the July conference call, Zuckerberg noted that Messenger had reached 200 million MAUs as of April. That means Facebook has more than doubled Messenger MAUs over the course of seven months. The "forcing" of a separate Messenger installation occurred over the summer, about halfway through this time frame.

Of course, aforementioned "forcing" certainly helped drive those MAU figures higher, but that doesn't invalidate the reasoning behind the requirement. If anything, it confirms that Facebook made the right call, because the net result is much higher levels of adoption and usage.

Two peas in an expensive pod
In August, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum tweeted that the service was now up to 600 million MAUs. Inevitably, there is some user overlap between WhatsApp and Messenger, but Facebook is undoubtedly growing its messaging position, and the two services are highly complementary. WhatsApp is more of an SMS replacement, particularly in emerging markets, as well as a way to communicate with people outside of Facebook.

Messenger and WhatsApp are a great pair, even if Facebook paid an insane premium for the latter.

Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.