It is easy to make the case that smartphones have revolutionised the way in which we communicate with our friends, family and loved ones.
Initially greeted with a comparatively muted reception in some quarters – where doubts were expressed that they would offer much beyond the functionality of texting and voice calls already present on the old feature phone – they have since become a ubiquitous part of most people's lives.
Trends such as the ever-expanding use of social media have accelerated this – and some features have become seamlessly integrated into our lives in such a way that has almost gone uncommented upon.
Video calling is one such example, having once been a pipe-dream of futuristic science fiction visions, such as in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today, a video call is an everyday thing most people take for granted.
Indeed, services such as Skype and Facebook Messenger mean that people can talk to anyone else from around the world cheaply by using Wi-Fi or their data allowance, without racking up astronomical bills.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Facebook has finally unveiled a new feature that it claims is one of the most commonly requested from its user base – the ability to video chat in groups, rather than simply being restricted to one-to-one calling.
Group Video Chat in Messenger started rolling out to Android and iOS devices – as well as on the desktop version of the service – all over the world from December 19th.
Product manager for Messenger at Facebook Stephane Taine explained that more and more people want to use group messaging for lots of different reasons, whether this is planning a family holiday or simply sharing some silly jokes.
“With 245 million people making video calls in Messenger every month, now we're bringing everyone on Messenger the ability to turn group chats into face-to-face conversations no matter where you are – whether you’re down the street or halfway across the world,” she commented.
“Chatting face-to-face live as a group is perfect for those spontaneous moments when text just isn't enough.”
Group Video Chat is free to use and allows users to see up to six people at any one time – with up to 50 able to join in via voice. If more than six people are in the call, then just the dominant speaker will be shown to all of the participants.
All users need to get started is the latest version of Messenger – and new group conversations can be created or jumped into by those who are invited. Tap the video icon on the upper right corner of the page and everyone in the chat thread will be invited.