Mobile operator Orange’s audacious Libon project gets increasingly interesting as the years go by, and now it’s added a fresh take on mobile messaging into the mix – just hours after Facebook announced its acquisition of one of the major players in the field, WhatsApp.

Having started off as a Visual Voicemail-type service called On Voicefeed that anyone could use regardless of their mobile network, Libon added low-cost international VoIP calling to any phone number last year, and we’re told that this has opened up successful new revenue channels for operators in the Orange group, such as France’s Sosh.

The new expansion into mobile messaging makes sense from a product point of view, but it’s a competitive market so what has Libon done to tackle the problem that many people have already chosen a platform like WhatsApp or Line and are likely to stick to it?

The messaging feature in Libon’s Android and iOS apps is pretty straightforward, offering text and photo messaging and the ability for users to send a map of their location to recipients. It’s the way they’ve got around the ‘no-one’s going to use it until their friends do’ problem that’s really interesting here.

Webchat Screens 06 220x390 Orange adds a clever take on mobile messaging to its Libon app     Webchat Screens 03 220x390 Orange adds a clever take on mobile messaging to its Libon app

A Libon user can initiate a chat with anyone in their phone’s address book. If the recipient isn’t a Libon user too, they’ll get an SMS or email message with a link to a Web page where they can chat to the sender as if they were a Libon user, with most of the features of the messaging app intact but no requirement to sign up.

To keep things private, the Web page is tied to the specific user’s phone number or email address – anyone else following the link shouldn’t be able to access the chat. This is all thanks to a new technology designed by Orange called Open Chat. That’s ‘open’ as in ‘open to all end users’, as opposed to ‘open source’ – this is proprietary and, we’re told, patented.

With none of the stickers or games that you’ll find in messaging apps from the likes of Line, Libon’s messaging app may seem a little basic for today’s tastes, but don’t underestimate the power of the network operator on many non-techie users’ mobile experiences, even today. It’s worth noting that although this is mobile-focused, Libon messaging works from a desktop browser too.

Orange tells us that Libon has been a real value-add for operators in its group already, so a well-presented app that offers cheap international calling, SMS, IM and visual/transcribed voicemail in one package is likely to be appealing to certain types of users, especially if it’s preloaded on their smartphone when they switch it on for the first time.

Orange isn’t content to take VoIP and messaging providers at their own game, it plans to allow ‘friendly’ rival operators to offer Libon-powered packages later in the year.

Libon is available for iOS and Android, and the new update should be out as you’re reading this.

Libon [Android / iOS]

Image credits: Libon