Unfortunately for the social network, Home flopped. Reviewers panned it, relatively few people downloaded it, and the handset associated with it -- the HTC First -- was quickly discontinued. In the wake of Home's failure, Facebook has gone in the opposite direction. Instead of a single, all-encompassing app, Facebook has been releasing a wide variety of apps, each with dramatically different functionality.
Facebook's latest app is called Hello. Once installed on an Android handset, it allows users to make calls and send messages from within Facebook's platform. If it catches on, it could further increase the popularity of Facebook Messenger.
Facebook says Hello
Hello acts as a combined dialer and contacts app. Users can make calls, view their phone history, and search through their contacts -- both the ones stored on their phone and on Facebook itself.
Compared to the standard Android dialer, it has a number of notable advantages. Say you want to call your local Chinese restaurant to place a takeout order. Assuming you don't have the number saved in your contacts, you might open up the Google app, search for it, click on the number to open the dialer app, then hit call. That's not a terribly difficult process, but Hello makes it even easier. You can search for any restaurant from within the app, and if they have a Facebook page, Hello will pull up the number automatically.
There's also Facebook-based caller ID. If your local pharmacy calls to let you know that your prescription is in, Hello will tell you even if you don't have the number stored in your contacts. There are privacy and anti-spam features as well: users can easily block individual numbers, as well as numbers that have been commonly blocked by other people using the app.
A way to highlight Messenger
If Hello catches on, Facebook could benefit in a few key ways.
Hello is intimately integrated with Messenger, Facebook's messaging platform. If you search for a contact through Hello, and they have a Facebook page, Hello makes it easy to contact them through Messenger. It doesn't force you onto Messenger -- you can opt to call their wireless number or send them a standard text message instead -- but it heavily encourages it.
Messenger is listed ahead of the standard phone number on the Hello contact page. Combined with Messenger's recently launched support for Wi-Fi calling, Hello users could conceivably contact their friends without ever leaving the Facebook platform. At the very least, it should increase the stickiness of Messenger, giving users of Hello another way to access it.
Facebook is increasingly interested in messaging
But there's no guarantee that Hello will catch on. Facebook has a long history of failed mobile apps, including Facebook Paper, Facebook Poke, and Facebook Slingshot. As of this writing, Hello isn't even in the top 300 most popular free apps on Google Play.
But it's a relatively new app, and by Facebook's own admission, an experimental one. If nothing else, it highlights Facebook's commitment to messaging as a business.
Facebook has been placing more emphasis on Messenger in recent months. It doesn't heavily affect the company's financials today, but it could serve as key part of Facebook's business in the years ahead. In March, at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference, it announced that it was turning Messenger into a development platform. The apps initially unveiled for Messenger largely centered around more robust social communication like images, memes, and GIFs. But in time, Messenger could serve as a platform for all e-commerce, allowing consumers to connect with businesses directly, both for inquires and purchases.
It's a strange concept in the U.S., but messaging is big business overseas. WeChat generates millions of dollars for China's Tencent; Line brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in Japan.
Facebook has yet to monetize Messenger, but it should eventually. Hello could play a key roll in driving engagement.