Facebook finally released its official iPad app yesterday, in the form of a universal add-on to its existing iPhone application. It wasn’t exactly a secret that it was coming, nor was what it would bring in terms of interface and features. But the way those features behave in practice, along with when it arrived (alongside major changes to the Facebook website), make the iPad app a much more attractive option for accessing Facebook than any other available.
There are three big reasons why I think the Facebook iPad app trumps either the web-based site (or mobile site), or the native iPhone app: navigation, visual clutter, and photo browsing.
Facebook borrowed a neat trick from the Twitter iPad app, using simple swipe navigation to go back a level when you navigate to links both within and outside of Facebook. The swiping action also opens up the Facebook main menu on the left side of the app, which by default is hidden out of view. This tiny addition, which eliminates the need of having to hunt down and tap a small arrow button every time you want to revisit your news feed, turns navigation from a chore to simplicity itself. And the button’s still there, too, if people prefer having somewhere to focus their attention when finding their way around.
Pull-t0-refresh in the news feed is another nice navigation feature that lets you control the pace with which you receive information from Facebook, and the way Profiles are presented are currently more organized and clean than profiles on the regular website, and will become an even better option for quickly finding specific contact info when Facebook institutes Timeline for all users. Other nice touches include event sidebars that let me see at a glance exactly the info I’m usually looking for without taking me to a new page. Facebook for iPad is more about efficiency than any of its other incarnations, which leads me to my next point.
Facebook on the web has become a visual nightmare. What was once a clean and simple site is now a bizarre mash-up of information, with ads, links and data sources all crammed together in a confusing, multi-column layout that provides no escape for an eye looking for a place to rest. The recent addition of the Ticker is the cherry on top of this attention-straining design.
Facebook for iPad is a like a distillation of this swirling information vortex into perfect, bite-sized chunks. I want my news feed? There it is in profile view. Need to see the chat list? Just turn the iPad to landscape orientation. Everything else is available with the swipe of a finger or tap of a button via the Facebook parent menu, and best of all, you’ve got no adds or Ticker to deal with.
Also, the way apps are handled via external, third-party, native iOS apps means you won’t have those to distract you, either. All of this adds up to a Facebook that’s much better at doing what I want it to do: help me stay in touch with friends and family.
I’ve never used Facebook that much for sharing photos, but the iPad app could change that. The photo browsing element of the new app is terrific, and makes looking through friends’ galleries a pleasure. That’s because the interface emphasizes the photos themselves, and makes the conversation secondary. I’d much rather see a photo first, and then check out what people have to say about it if I find myself really curious.
My one complaint in this area is that the thumbnails along the bottom when you’re viewing a series of photos aren’t really big enough to reveal anything about the pictures themselves. Making all the thumbs as large as the one currently in focus, and then adding a colored borders or slightly larger size to indicate where you are would’ve worked better. Still, it helps you know where you are in a series, and you could argue that it’s better not knowing exactly what the next photo will bring.
The Facebook app may not be perfect, but it is the best way to interact with Facebook in my opinion. Your mileage may vary if you use Facebook for different purposes; professional networkers may have problems with limitations like an inability to email out links, or the lack of support for the recently introduced Lists feature. For me, the advantages listed above more than make up for those few drawbacks, however. How do you feel about the new app?