Telefónica scraps its free messaging app Tu Me to focus on more valuable Tu Go

The mobile carrier group Telefónica (s tef) is to shut down Tu Me, a service that lets users call and message each other for free from their smartphones. Some users have received notifications that Tu Me will be no more as of Sept. 8, and the company confirmed the closure to me (pardon the pun) on Wednesday.

The shutdown comes as no surprise – not because carriers such as Telefónica risk losing voice and SMS revenue by putting out such all-IP “over the top” (OTT) platforms, but because users are already all on third-party OTT platforms such as WhatsApp and Skype.(s MSFT) Rivals such as T-Mobile USA(s TMUS) (the Bobsled platform) and Orange (Libon) should take note.

Focusing efforts

As far as Telefónica is concerned, though, there’s more to it than that. Earlier this year the Telefónica Digital team did something rather smart by launching a separate app called Tu Go on the O2 UK network. Tu Go doesn’t act as a rival to O2’s core services; rather, it extends those services to other platforms, so you can for example make a voice call from your desktop with the call coming out of your monthly mobile call allowance, or receive a call – made to your standard mobile number – on your iPad(s aapl).

This is clever because it squeezes more value out of the elements that Telefónica controls, namely the phone number and billing arrangement, rather than trying to create a whole new platform. Hence this, from a company spokesman today:

“Tu Me will be discontinued in September. We’ve taken the decision to focus our resources in this area on Tu Go where we believe we have the greater commercial opportunity. Tu Go launched in the UK in February and the concept of ‘freeing your number from the mobile’ has received very strong customer feedback, addressing needs around coverage, roaming and multi-device use.

“The fact that we’ve put the service in our UK TV advertising (starting last Friday) is a strong endorsement of the importance of Tu Go for the business. We’ll be re-directing resources from Tu Me to expand the roll out of Tu Go into more Telefónica markets… All active users of the service will be contacted 30 days ahead of the closure to notify them.”

The spokesman also argued that the closure reflects Telefónica Digital’s “agile” approach to product development. “We certainly couldn’t have launched Tu Go without the experience of Tu Me and the lessons we learnt through developing and launching that product,” he said.

What the spokesman wouldn’t reveal, however, is how much of a failure Tu Me actually was – he wouldn’t disclose its user figures, nor those for Tu Go.

And Joyn?

There’s also another gaping hole in this picture: Joyn, the cross-carrier “rich communications service” platform that the carriers all hope can fend off WhatsApp, Skype and their ilk. It was always a bit weird that Telefónica was backing both Joyn and its own very similar rival, and it’s equally weird that the operator has not mentioned Joyn as a reason for ditching Tu Me.

According to Telefónica’s spokesman, this was because Joyn and Tu Me are “quite different,” despite the fact that they offer much the same functionality. “Joyn needs deep integration, and something like WhatsApp is moving very quickly,” he said. “We support Joyn but we can see how fast the market is moving.”

To be honest, I remain skeptical about Joyn (as with any cross-carrier initiative) and Telefónica’s silence on the matter doesn’t help – nor does the fact that Telefónica, which launched Joyn in Spain last November, is yet to launch it anywhere else.

But either way, it’s nice to see the carrier group realize that its efforts are best spent on making what it already offers more valuable.