Archives For facebook

Facebook HomeYesterday’s announcement of Facebook Home means that for the first time a mainstream service has a better offering on Android than on iPhone, partly due to restrictions of the iOS platform itself. Facebook Home for Android updates your home screen with status updates and photos, shows profile pictures of your friends on top of other applications with the new Chat Heads messaging functionality, integrates text/SMS messaging with Facebook, which is all not possible with iOS. On top of that, Facebook has spent a lot of time making sure all interactions are absolutely astonishing, with new interaction patterns and a new physics engine. So this is really the first main stream service that has a much better and more powerful app on Android than on iOS.

Of course, this will not be for everybody. With the new Chat Heads, Facebook is clearly trying to keep other competing messaging services like WhatsAppMessageMe and SnapChat at bay. These services are mostly used by teens. Getting status updates on your home screen and even your lock screen has a huge impact on privacy and more serious business oriented users will not like this. Also, out of the box only 5 phones will be supported (HTC One, HTC One X/X+, HTC First, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and Samsung Galaxy Note II). This is probably because of hardware/OS requirements but also rigorous testing required to make sure all works fine. A crashing home screen of course needs to work flawless, otherwise users will uninstall within minutes. Your Android phone will become dominated by Facebook, and not everybody will like that. Hopefully Facebook keeps it as user experience focussed as possible and will not become the new toolbar as on the Windows platform.

So what does is mean for other companies? Google will be less visible within Android with Home, no search anymore on the home screen. No support announced for the Nexus 4 was remarkable, but as Facebook Home will be downloadable via Google Play store Google is aware and letting Facebook put it out there. Still users need to sign up with Google for a Google account, and Google can still gather all information it does normally. In the future FB might include it’s investor Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Bing Maps. Android has not been altered for this, although HTC admitted that they made some chances to Android to allow notifications to be shown in a more prominent way. For Apple, this means that the number one consumer service world wide will have a better presence on a competing platform, because of Apple’s own choices. Apple chooses to remain closed, keeping control over apps in a strict way. Yes that means less malware and crap apps, but also stops 3rd party developers from pushing the platform further. As we move to more constant monitoring and more push from apps from the current situation where interaction with your mobile phone is initiated by the user, background processing will prove to be vital. Apple not allowing this will be a big hurdle for companies to innovate on iOS.

I am curious to see what is does for app distribution. Facebook Home also has an app launcher, which is remarkable because the Android app launcher itself is great and Facebook for now does not all a lot of value. The value it has right now is that it is integral part of Facebook Home so you don’t need to switch a few taps forward to the Android launcher. This FB launcher offers great possibilities for the future, making FB a prime app marketing channel.

I am really excited about the new functionalities and interaction patterns, Facebook is pushing the envelope with what is possible for mobile. What do you think? Will you install Facebook Home on your Android phone?

Finally, Facebook has released an update of their iOS app. Whereas older versions used HTML technology in combination with UIWebViews, the new version as it looks now is (almost) fully developed in native iOS technology, Objective-C. As I have written in the past, it is hard to get a well performing app using the hybrid approach of native and web. The UIWebView is not as fast as when it runs inside of mobile Safari because the Javascript engine Nitro is not available for 3rd party apps, and it doesn’t seem to be so in the new upcoming iOS 6.

My testing by network sniffing confirms that no more HTML is returned from the Facebook servers but JSON, the preferred format when using REST technology. JSON just gives you the data, formatting needs to be done by the code inside of the app. Most iOS apps that retrieve server data use JSON technology, so that was a no-brainer. According to their development blog post, many more different optimisations were implemented, including offloading actions to background threads (iOS 101), caching of computations how long text should be displayed, caching of heights of rows in the UITableView. Most of the app is native now. Still some lesser used parts are leveraging HTML technology, to allow for flexibility.

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It’s the week of the Facebook IPO, and a lot of talk in the Facebook roadshow is about its mobile strategy. Out of the 900 million monthly active users, 500 million use Facebook on mobile. Mobile is booming and will so the next few years as these numbers are showing, so rightfully so a lot of attention goes to mobile.

On the iPhone in 2008/9, before the iPad was out, the first version of the Facebook app was seen as one of the great examples how to build an iPhone app. It was developed by one person, Joe Hewitt, and parts of the app were open sourced as the Three20 project. When he left Facebook and stopped working on the iOS app, a new team took over which resulted in a complete rewrite for a universal app that also supported the iPad (November 2011). In spite of growing numbers, not a whole lot of users actually like the current iOS app. In the US iTunes store, the rating average is 2 stars, with out the 21,803 ratings, 11,839 1 star ratings (!). One star ratings are often a sign of frustration, and you can see that in the comments. For most of the apps an average of 2 stars is deadly, but we all use Facebook so yes we will all have to use its iOS app if you own an iPhone or iPad.

So what is wrong with the iOS app?

  1. app is slow 
  2. inconsistent information notification icons say there are new messages or responses, actual window does not show anything new.
  3. app is slower than mobile web site while everybody is used to speedy apps, the Facebook mobile web site is faster than iOS app, and offers almost the same functionality.
  4. tons of other bugs scrambled views, photo upload, text boxes disappear, no sharing.

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I got some annoying app requests on Facebook from this one app. They came via friends that I know click on too many apps and games, so I ignored them. Yesterday I saw a post about this very app called Syn on the Dutch iPhoneclub, where it was deemed a spam app. Worse, somehow it had made it to the number one position in the paid top 10 of all apps, in spite of an average rating of 1 star (!). My first reaction was that the company behind the app, Falkor, inc must have hired some shady firm to boost downloads to get that high in the ranking. But so many people complained about spam, I thought let’s dig deeper and do some research.

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