Facebook launches CatchUp, an audio-only calling app that shows who’s ready to chat now

  • Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, has today launched a new app called CatchUp that makes it easier for friends and family in the U.S. to coordinate phone calls or set up group calls with up to 8 people.
  • While there are a number of group chat apps available to users today, what makes CatchUp unique is that the calls it enables are audio-only, not video, and it flags when users are available.
  • In addition, CatchUp won’t need a Facebook account to use the service — the app works with your phone’s contacts list.
  • Facebook explains the app’s intention is to address one of the key reasons people no longer make phone calls — they don’t know when someone has time to talk and they don’t want to interrupt them.
  • CatchUp is currently being tested in the U.S. for a limited time on iOS and Android devices.

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.

Facebook CatchUp

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.

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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.

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