Facebook's experimental NPE team has released its sixth new app, this time focused on facilitating phone calls between friends who are up for a chat.
Called CatchUp, the new app is essentially Messenger Rooms for voice calls, providing the capacity to see when your friends are online and up for a voice call, as well as in-progress group chats that you can join.
As per the app description:
"Catching up has never been this easy. See who’s available and effortlessly join one-on-one and group calls. Never play phone tag or make an appointment to call someone again. Keep in touch more, think about it less. Any time you’re free to talk, CatchUp!"
So, yeah, you can see who's active in the app, like Messenger, and join open group discussions, like Messenger Rooms. Seems simple enough.
Within the app, users can set their status to let their connections know when they're ready to talk, and create groups to chat with. There's also an 'auto-availability' function which will automatically update your status when you’re connected via Bluetooth.
It's another way for people to connect - but of course, you can already call people through Messenger anyway, with the added option of using video as well, if you so choose. As such, CatchUp's only functional addition over Messenger is that you can see when people are specifically up for an audio chat, so it doesn't seem like it provides enough utility for a separate app, which you and your connections will subsequently need to each download in order for it to be of any real use.
But then again, maybe in regions where connectivity is limited, and phone calls are the preferred means of connection, having the option to be able to see when people are open to a voice chat will be beneficial. The app is currently being tested in the US, on both iOS and Android.
Either way, it is interesting to keep tabs on where Facebook's NPE - or New Product Experimentation - team is looking, and what trends it might be seeking to capitalize on with its test apps. In this case, it may actually be trending social app Clubhouse that Facebook's looking to track - Clubhouse, an audio-only chat app, has gained a heap of traction in some circles over the past few weeks. Keen to avoid the disruption of another Snapchat, Houseparty or TikTok, Facebook's NPE team seems determined to launch apps latching onto any such trend quickly, with a view to maximizing their popularity through Facebook's scale.
Thus far, NPE has launched six new apps over the last six months. Those apps are:
- Kit - Provides expanded messaging options via Apple Watch
- Hobbi - Enables users to collect images of creative hobbies, and sort them into boards to track personal development
- Whale - Enables users to create their own memes with simplified templates and tools
- AUX - A participatory DJ app, where users try to get their song on a group playlist
- Bump - A chat app which aims to introduce students to others in their vicinity
And now CatchUp, facilitating connection via voice calls.
There's no specific theme to the various apps NPE is trying out, but you would assume that each is based on usage behavior, with Facebook looking to tap into the next key trend and keep ahead of the competition.
Given the limited functionality of each beyond apps that already exist, and where users, critically, already have established networks, none of these new apps looks set to become a mainstay. But that also might not be the intention - it could be that Facebook is simply looking to gather insights to inform other areas and tools.
In its explanation of the NPE team, Facebook says that:
"We decided to create this separate developer name to help set the appropriate expectations with people that, unlike Facebook’s family of apps, NPE Team apps will change very rapidly and will be shut down if we learn that they’re not useful to people. We expect many failures. We also want to minimize disruption to the billions of people who use Facebook apps every day."
So each app could simply be a small testing ground for a new feature in an existing Facebook app - so if notifications of friends who are up for audio calls in Messenger becomes a thing, this could well be why.
What we do know for sure is that the NPE is certainly not wasting time - and maybe, if they keep throwing ideas at the App Store wall, one will stick.