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Messaging Startup Tango Unveils Plan for More Standalone Apps

The first app out of Tango Labs, a new internal group, is Tango Music Pix.

Vjeran Pavic/ Re/code

Social startup Tango is taking a page out of Facebook’s playbook.

The company, whose flagship messaging app started with simple voice and video messaging but now includes games and even a social media stream, is planning a set of new standalone apps, says Tango VP of Strategy Chi-Chao Chang. The new collection of apps, the first of which debuts Monday, will be created and built by Tango Labs, a new internal organization dedicated to Tango’s new product strategy.

This multi-app strategy is taking off among consumer tech companies in Silicon Valley. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in January that Facebook would unveil multiple standalone apps in 2014, and he’s since delivered on that promise with both Facebook creations (Paper, Slingshot) and acquisitions (WhatsApp, Moves). Facebook also has an internal team, called Facebook Creative Labs, that is responsible for building new apps.

Other companies, like LinkedIn and Path, have taken the same strategy. LinkedIn has added five new or redesigned apps in the past 12 months, and Path CEO Dave Morin said back in June that the company was planning to unbundle some of its core services, like messaging, into standalone apps.

Chang said Tango didn’t look to emulate any of these other companies, but it is taking the same strategy. The first app from Tango is Tango Music Pix, unveiled Monday. Music Pix allows users to create miniature slideshows by putting up to 10 photos to background music on their phone. The slideshows can then be shared to Tango or other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The idea is that building features into standalone apps makes it easier for engineers and developers to build out specific tools and updates, said Chang. It also gives users more control — you don’t need a Tango account to use Tango Music Pix, and vice versa. Ultimately, building a completely new app can be simpler in the long run.

“In order for you to get an experience correct requires focus and rethinking,” explained Chang. “Oftentimes, taking the outcome of that rethinking and putting it back into something that 250 million people already use is harder to do than initially thought.”

Maintaining interest in a new app is also a challenge, and Chang said Tango understands that. The company shouldn’t feel pressure to monetize any of the new apps right away — it raised $280 million in a round led by Alibaba in March — and has no plans to monetize Music Pix at the moment, said Chang.

Still, when Facebook unveiled Paper and Slingshot, for example, they both vaulted to the top of the App Store right away before slowly sliding down the charts. Tango, which has 250 million registered users, hopes that Music Pix resonates early on and continues to draw attention as users share slideshows with one another over their social networks of choice.

Tango is already busy working on additional apps, although Chang wouldn’t specify what’s coming down the pipeline. Each new app within Tango will have its own dedicated team, but all teams will fall under the Tango Labs umbrella, which Chang oversees. “What’s really important to us is to move fast, be focused and deliver these ideas to our users, and just see how they work,” said Chang. “We are going to be looking for very creative ways to complement our messaging platform.”

Tango Music Pix is available on both iOS and Android.

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