Facebook readies iOS app update featuring 'Chat Heads' messaging

One of the features of Facebook's Home Android software will soon roll out as an iPhone and iPad app update

Chat Heads, the buzzy messaging feature released as part of Facebook's Home software for Android-based smartphones, is now coming to the iPhone and iPad.

The app, which is designed to let users chat with their friends even while they are doing other things on their phone, will launch on the iPhone and iPad later on Tuesday as part of an update to Facebook's apps on those devices, the company said.

Home is a family of apps that Facebook made available for Android-equipped smartphones last week in the Google Play Store. The product isn't an operating system, but it sits on top of the Android OS and is intended to add a range of social features to people's phones. Currently, the product works on several different phones made by HTC and Samsung.

Home essentially Facebook-ifies people's smartphones. One of its most striking features is Cover Feed, which replaces the traditional home and lock screen on the phone with the user's News Feed, so the first thing people see when they pick up their phone are photos and posts from their friends.

Chat Heads is also a Home big feature. The messaging app displays a pop-up bubble of the sender's headshot whenever the user receives a message, which can be repositioned anywhere on the screen by dragging it. To reply to a message, the person just taps the bubble, which can be closed by flicking it down.

Unlike SMS-based text messaging, Chat Heads is designed to let users message their friends within whatever other app they may already be inside of.

That feature, however, loses some of its functionality with Tuesday's iPhone and iPad update, since it can only be accessed within Facebook's mobile app. Still, Facebook describes it as a way to "keep chatting when you're doing other stuff on Facebook, like checking your News Feed."

With Chat Heads for Home and now iOS, Facebook appears to be making a stronger move into the mobile messaging market, where competition is heating up. Other apps such as WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage are already popular alternatives to SMS-based texting.

The iPhone and iPad updates will also include Stickers, which are blown-up versions of emoticons that people can insert into their messages. Some Stickers will be made available to users for free, and more can be purchased in the app's Sticker Store, Facebook said.

The company is also planning to release an update to its iOS apps that will incorporate some of the recent design-themed changes to News Feed that Facebook rolled out to the desktop last month. Those changes are designed to reduce clutter and provide a visually richer News Feed highlighting photographs and content from publishers. This update will be most noticeable on the iPad, the company said.

Facebook said the iOS update will be made available later Tuesday in the Apple App Store.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

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