Facebook wants to make phone calls mainstream again. It’s doing so by addressing what it believes is the medium’s foremost shortcoming with a new, experimental app simply called CatchUp — the latest product out of Facebook’s New Product Experimentation (NPE) division, where developers are tasked with building unique and experimental tools.
Facebook says its studies found that one of the main reasons why people don’t call friends and family more frequently is that they “don’t know when they are available to talk or are worried they may reach them at an inconvenient time.”
CatchUp is an audio-only calling app that tackles this by letting you broadcast your availability and tell your family and friends when you are free to talk. The feature seems to take a page out of the viral video-calling platform Houseparty’s book, which informs users when their contacts launch the app and are “live.”
The app’s landing page sorts your contacts based on who’s ready to talk and who’s offline. On CatchUp, you can also create groups and call up to eight people at once.
While you’re on a group call, CatchUp even actively updates the status of the rest of the members. Therefore, if someone who was not available before has come online, you can invite them to join midway.
Most importantly, you don’t need a Facebook profile to sign up for CatchUp. Instead, it relies on your phonebook like WhatsApp.
“Keeping in touch with friends and family is important, especially during this time of physical distancing. Messaging and video calling are great ways to send a quick update or connect with someone face-to-face, but speaking to someone over the phone offers a unique balance of both convenience and personal connection,” wrote Nikki Shah, NPE’s Product Lead in a blog post.
CatchUp is, for now, limited to Android and iOS users in the United States and there’s no word from Facebook whether it plans to expand its availability. Since it’s an experimental app, its lifespan is only as good as its popularity and adoption. NPE experiments with features and tools Facebook eventually plans to merge with its main apps. But so far, none of these experimental apps have had much success. Most recently, NPE launched Hobbi, an app that lets you document your hobbies.
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