Facebook For Android’s beta tier has been a success, with 1 million testers helping fix bugs before updates go out to its hundreds of millions of mainstream users. So today Facebook launched a beta program for its Messenger android app with multiple automatic updates of new features and fixes each week. With heavy competition in messaging, Facebook is intent on making Messenger is fast and stable.
Facebook explains that “Performance and reliability are important aspects of any high quality product. For a messaging product, this is especially true – we want our messages to be delivered to our friends quickly, and reliably. We have learned a lot about improving mobile performance at Facebook, and the Android Beta program is a helpful tool we have at our disposal.” The Facebook For Android beta launched in June 2013 and has testers in over 150 countries.
Users with the courage to with withstand glitches and explore new features that could suddenly disappear will be encouraged to file reports about bugs and their satisfaction. They won’t get anything material in return, but will know they’re aiding hundreds of millions of people to have a better Messenger experience.
To join the beta program, users must:
1) Join the Facebook Messenger for Android Beta Testers Google group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/messenger-for-android-beta-testers
2) Allow beta downloads by clicking “Become a Tester” in the Play Store (you need to join the Google Group before becoming a tester)
3) Download Facebook Messenger from the Play Store to update your app
4) Turn on automatic updates, as the beta version of Facebook Messenger for Android will be updated multiple times per week
In January 2013, analyst Benedict Evans managed to scrape user counts of Facebook’s apps even though the company hadn’t officially released growth stats in a long time. As of September 2012, Facebook Messenger had 56.7 million total monthly users, with 32.3 million on Android. That number sure grew over that past year, and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in January 2014’s Q4 2013 earnings call that “The number of people using Messenger grew more than 70% in the past three months [since Messenger's big redesign], and we’ve seen a large increase in the number of messages sent. We have a lot more coming to Messenger in the first half of this year.”
That means Facebook Messenger for Android should have at least 50 million users, and likely closer to 75 million. That’s a lot of people to send an update that’s only be tested internally.
Facebook’s doubling-down on Android beta programs could signal an increasing desire for Apple to offer its own beta system. Apple has been reluctant as it prefers a simple, consistent experience where everyone gets a production-ready app. For now, Facebook uses its own complicated mobile beta testing work around in which its iOS app actually contains multiple different interfaces that appear to different users. This lets Facebook still test its iOS apps with a large audience, but it has to do so in the wild with normal users who are less tolerant of bugs than those who actively sign up for beta programs.
I’ve heard Facebook has been prodding Apple to offer a similar beta system to Google’s platform. I wouldn’t be surprised if other developers like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo would want that too. If Apple doesn’t figure this out, it may see companies pushing features to Android first because they can launch with a clean bill of health.