Native Facebook for iOS Arrives


Ellis Hamburger for The Verge:

Facebook today announced the culmination of more than six months of work, a native version of the Facebook app for iOS that’s twice as fast. “Up until now we’ve looked at scale,” iOS Product Manager Mick Johnson says, “but we’ve become aware that while we have a great mobile website, embedding HTML 5 inside an app isn’t what people expect.” Facebook for iOS 5.0 was built from the ground up using Apple’s iOS SDK, and looks nearly identical to the old app, but bundles in very substantial speed improvements as well as an overdue Timeline profile view for iPad. The app update is set to roll out over the next few hours.

Despite one or two minor trade-offs, a native Objective-C iteration of the Facebook app is a very welcome, albeit grossly overdue, change. The app has been cripplingly — even somewhat astonishingly — slow for years.

Seemingly with little self-consciousness due to its position as one of the most popular apps on the iOS platform, Facebook appeared satisfied to rest upon its mobile laurels as users continued to wrestle with its various failings. As was implied by the release of Facebook Camera, however, Facebook’s outlook has somewhat changed.

Built upon the same codebase as Facebook Camera — an app I was rather impressed by several months ago — the new version of Facebook for iOS is truly a pleasure to use. Although I imagine that’s certainly not enough to alter any anti-Facebook rhetoric from the technology sphere, it’ll unquestionably come as a very welcome surprise for the vast majority of average users.

Facebook 5.0 is available for download from the iOS App Store.

Facebook Rebuilding iOS App in Native Objective-C


Nick Bilton:

One of the Facebook engineers said the new application has been built primarily using Objective-C, the programming language used to build applications for iOS. Many of the components of the current version of the Facebook app are built using HTML5, the Web-based markup language.

The current version of the app is essentially an Objective-C shell with a Web browser inside. When it comes to speed, this is like putting the engine of a Smart Car in the body of a Ferrari.

Applications that are predominantly HTML5 render most of the components of an app as a Web page, pulling images and content from the Web directly into the application. Objective-C takes the opposite approach, taking full advantage of the hardware in the iPhone and then building most of the functionality directly into the application so it has to collect less information from the Web.

Considering Facebook’s evident re-focus on the mobile space, this move certainly makes plenty of sense. The traditional iOS Facebook experience has been problematically characterized by a marring sense of sluggishness, glitches, and frustration. With native Objective-C, however, the app will take full advantage of the iPhone’s hardware, and should respond in a much quicker manner.

Of the utmost interest to this equation, however, is Facebook’s well-documented investment in HTML5. Having just launched its HTML5-driven App Center in recent weeks, the reconstruction of its core mobile app in a native, non-HTML-driven language screams of contradiction.

Still, regardless of any problematic consumer-facing rhetoric, I remain encouraged by Facebook’s attitude toward the mobile space. Although its various efforts have far from reignited my active usage of the social networking behemoth, it’s always positive to see large entities re-addressing their own problems.

The Facebook Camera Login Screen

The Facebook Camera Login Screen

Much like Mr. Siegler, I too was taken aback by the initial launch screen of the Facebook Camera app. Although not established at the system level à la Twitter, Facebook has evidently worked through some intelligent loopholes in order to achieve this astoundingly useful login screen.

Regarding this novelty, M.G. writes:

But how on Earth did the app know my name? I assumed, of course, it was related to the fact that I also had the main Facebook iOS app installed on my iPhone — but still, how did those two apps talk to one another as neither is system-level?

Here’s how. (And here’s Apple’s documentation on it.)

It’s a smart way to do it (though it may get a bit of backlash). And it will allow Facebook to continue to build separate apps for key features — perhaps an Events app next? — that are quick and easy to install and use. Now just imagine if this was baked into iOS itself so other apps could use it (just like the Twitter iOS integration, but actually even a little more seamless). It would save a lot of typing and/or a number of clicks for app switching (Single Sign On). In my mind, this “hack” shows why Facebook eventually needs to do their own mobile OS. Deep integration and seamless use are paramount in mobile.

The last sentence is an astute observation.

Upon opening Facebook Camera, the immediate greeting of your own name, and, indeed, the effortless login, is an utterly welcome and important characteristic to boast. Perhaps asking for login details is an expected inconvenience, but the psychological ramifications of foregoing such a step are positively extensive.

Regardless of your feelings towards Facebook, I highly recommend dabbling with Facebook Camera for a short while. Unlike the vast majority of Facebook’s mobile endeavors, the Facebook Camera app demonstrates a distinct feeling of polish that irrevocably alters and disguises the perception of Facebook as the bloated entity that it has become.

Subtleties such as this, whether cognitively noted or not, are of the utmost importance in design, and it’s certainly encouraging to see Facebook adhering to such a philosophy.

The Facebook Camera and Instagram Non-Controversy

Facebook Camera

Following yesterday’s release of Facebook Camera, many have been quick to question the application’s significance in light of Facebook’s recent Instagram acquisition. Considering Facebook Camera provides attractive filters, sociability, and various other Instagram-esque perks, the similarities are readily apparent to even the most uninterested of onlookers. In reality, however, I tend to think there isn’t quite as much controversy as many have projected upon the situation.

As I discussed with Myke and Terry on The Bro Show a number of weeks ago, Facebook has been famously working on a mobile photography-centric app for over a year. When the acquisition was announced, many were quick to assume that development of the app had been abandoned. Clearly, however, such assumptions were unfounded.

In fact, contrary to the general confusion apparent within the technology community, I would argue that the youthful existence of the app is, in many respects, a resounding endorsement of a resurgent and responsive Facebook. As I wrote several months ago, Facebook’s goal must be the creation of a social networking playpen in which users are herded into the Facebook ecosystem for entertainment. Due to its ever-slowing rate of expansion, the facilitation of an entertaining and absorbing environment is of paramount importance to the long-term relevance — and, indeed, economic stability — of Facebook. Without this, Facebook will continue to hemorrhage its user-base to competing, small social networks (i.e., Instagram).

Instagram is a platform agnostic service, whereas Facebook Camera is — as is betrayed by its name — solely dedicated to Facebook sharing. Without ruining the integrity of the Instagram community, Facebook has launched its own, rather impressive, photography app that seeks to leverage its enormous community dynamic. In providing an attractive, competent experience for the average mobile photographer, Facebook has constructed a win-win situation for itself, insofar as users are likely to post to one of two photography communities — both of which are owned by Facebook.

Although this is mere conjecture, once the Instagram acquisition is finalized, I would imagine that Facebook will steadily reduce the quantity of time and work leant to the Instagram platform. In this environment, with an actively developed and growing photography app of its own, Facebook will ostensibly provide the end-user with a decision between an increasingly stagnant app, and an utterly attractive, responsive, and active alternative. Concordantly, many users may find themselves in a subtle shift from the agnostic, Twitter-friendly environment of Instagram, to the dictatorial environment governed by Facebook.

Following years of rapid expansion, it’s important to note Facebook’s recent re-investment in introspective improvements. Whether it’s the long-awaited release of the iPad app, the announcement of the App Center, or the general improvements in user experience, Facebook has clearly identified the significance in its existing infrastructure. Mobile is, without a doubt, the future for mobile social networking and, although somewhat late to the party, Facebook has demonstrated clear recognition of such a fact. Without rushing itself, Facebook is steadily extending itself into impressive, long-term endeavors in the mobile space. Facebook Camera is, on many different levels, the epitome of the disruptive Facebook of the mid-two thousands, and I certainly hope its indicative of the coming months and years for the company.

For the time being, however, Facebook is deserving of praise for the Facebook Camera app. Although many readers will have a deep-seated mistrust of Facebook, the app is unquestionably steeped in the broad tenets of mainstream appeal, smart design, and ease of use. For the vast majority of mobile social photography users, the Facebook Camera app accomplishes all that it needs to, and it does so in an utterly compelling package.

Perhaps Instagram and Facebook Camera superficially clash, but I tend to think such a conflict is not without long-term significance and reason — certainly not cause for controversy, dismissal, negativity, and confusion.