5 ways to make Facebook Messenger's Chat Heads better

Chase Bonar
 from  Winter Springs, FL
| Published: April 12, 2013

Facebook threw mobile a curveball and announced their new Messenger app alongside updates to the Android Facebook app. On any other regular day in a calendar year, I would've carried on with my daily functions which generally includes ignoring Facebook. But today I couldn't because now I have the opportunity to throw my friends in the trash courtesy of Chat Heads. The new Facebook Messenger is quite the thrill, and though it may sound ostentatious to say that I'm sold on it so soon, I am indeed sold on it. In fact, I'd probably pay to have Chat Heads.

I haven't spent all that much time with Chat Heads, but it has already replaced the stock Android messaging app. There are clear advantages in its portability as a messaging client, especially if you constantly have multiple applications running. It's a very versatile approach to conversations. At any given instance, you need only tap the head and you're confronted with every conversation within any application. It's true multitasking. Why it has taken this long to streamline the text messaging function is beyond me.

To top it off, Chat Heads is rather dynamic in its approach to messaging as a function and not just a utility. Text messaging is no longer a feature of a smartphone. It is a method of communication with merit. Text messaging prevails over phone calls during class (Shame on you!) and in meetings (Rude!), and Chat Heads gets the job done.

However, Chat Heads is only good, and not great. There are weaknesses to the app that a stock messaging app (or third-party app) firmly counter. Here are my suggestions to get Chat Heads rolling towards a more fluid texting experience.

The ability to call a contact in conversation

Whether you're in the Facebook Messenger app, or in the Chat Head pop-up, there is no way to call your recipient. The ability to call a contact within the Chat Head seems like a simple addition to a future update, but why it's not available in the first place is perplexing. Often times, a text message leads to a phone call. It's in this instance that Facebook Messenger a la Chat Head feels so very limited. Dare I say it actually feels closed, too?

Swipe between conversations

A good friend of mine introduced me to Sliding Messaging, a text messaging app that resembles the stock Android client, but takes a gesture-based approach to conversations. The area that Sliding Messaging succeeds in is its ability to easily manage multiple conversations at once. This is a weakness of Facebook Messenger with Chat Heads. The only way to begin a new conversation is to enter the app itself and tap the "plus" button in the bottom right corner. To top it off, sorting through conversations feels cumbersome when you have more than two or three open. I'm happy the Facebook software team lets the order of Chat Heads be swapped, but I'm smitten that we can't swipe through our conversations.

It needs landscape mode

When you're in the Facebook Messenger app, you can sling your smartphone sideways and utter "Cowabunga, dude." It rotates. But when you're in any other application (or the home screen), each individual Chat Head is limited to portrait. Yes, this is a limitation of the Android source code, but it's still annoying. For the same reasons I want to navigate my home screen sideways, I should be able to read my conversations with a slight slant. Call me weird, but I dig a wide-angle view over portrait 8 days of the week.

Chat Heads need contact identification

Unless you feel like re-organizing each "head" every time you open a conversation, the Chat Heads can get garbled. Each Chat Head coincides with a contact image. In this case, it's synced to my Google account. But for every contact that doesn't have a designated image, this can be dangerous. Say you're talking to your significant other about undergarments, or what have you. This is not a message intended for an unidentifiable Chat Head bubble aptly labelled "SMS." Yes, there are names at the top of each message. And yes, I can read. But they need to be in the "head" itself. A phone number would do, even. But "SMS" is far from a legitimate description, Facebook.

More than five Chat Heads, please

Facebook is the epitome of social interaction, so why are my conversations moderated to five friends? I can handle at least 10 conversations at once, though the recipients might find my replies short and sweet. Chat Heads is so very dynamic in its approach to texting that I find it ironic that it's limited to five active conversations. You could argue that an individual would have a hard to managing that many personalities at once, but you don't know until you try. The ability to swipe between more Chat Heads would make Facebook Messenger feel like a true evolution in the texting experience.

Those are my suggestions, folks. With that said, you never know who's reading the comments, so hit the break and pitch your ideas! Oh, and if Chat Heads are clearly not for you, make sure you mention why!

Image via Gigaom.