Facebook’s NPE Team, its experimental app division designed to play around with new mobile ideas, has a new product out called Kit, short for “Keep in Touch.” In a strange move, it’s a messaging app exclusive to the Apple Watch, and it lets you “send a voice message, your location or an emoji” with just a tap of the Watch screen, according to the app description. Kit was first discovered on Tuesday by TechCrunch.
“You also have easy access to speech-to-text. We hope that Kit helps you keep in touch with those most important to you — without constantly needing to pick up your phone,” the description continues. As TechCrunch notes, the app lets you send a variety of messages, like voice recordings and ones containing your location data, similar to how Apple’s iMessage functions on the Watch already. The one difference is that the messages are routed over Facebook Messenger.
That said, it’s not entirely clear why NPE Team released Kit now — there is no mention in the description of the current pandemic — or what exactly it’s going for. The app looks pretty bare, and it’s basically just a stripped-down version of Facebook Messenger with a few extra Apple Watch-specific features, despite Messenger already having an Apple Watch counterpart.
The NPE Team, which was formed in July 2019 and is run by Ime Archibong, has thrown out quite a few different products in the last year. Those include a meme-making app called Whale, an app for couples to share with only one another, and a Pinterest clone, among some other music-oriented apps aimed at college students.
It’s pretty clear none are supposed to be big hits. Facebook is likely letting some of its product designers have the freedom to experiment so that they maybe stumble upon a fresh new idea that could potentially be useful in one of its established products like Messenger or Instagram. The company has a reputation for keeping its eye on the mobile market and either cloning or acquiring new startups, like it did successfully to Snapchat with its signature Stories and unsuccessfully to Houseparty with group video chat.
Facebook also found itself in hot water last year when it was using a VPN app distributed outside the iOS App Store to keep tabs on teenagers’ mobile habits in exchange for monthly gift cards. The company has since shut the app down after a dustup with Apple over privacy concerns, and now it runs a separate market research app called Study on Android.
This is all just evidence that Facebook is immensely interested in the next big thing, especially since the company may have potentially missed out on the resurgence of short-form video with the rise of TikTok. So it makes sense that its experimental app division would be trying all sorts of weird and unconventional ideas to see what might be around the corner.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Facebook’s NPE Team was run by Jason Toff. That is incorrect; it is run by Ime Archibong, while Toff is a member. We regret the error.