On Thursday, Facebook released a totally rebuilt version of its maddening, unpopular iOS app. The new version is twice as fast as its clunky predecessor, and represents a corporate shift to a strategy focused on mobile, which is seen as the next big battleground for eyeballs as more users gravitate away from their desktops and spend more time on handhelds. The social network, under intense scrutiny since it went public, is putting "mobile first," says Facebook director of product Peter Deng. The big challenge? Getting mobile users to click ads on tiny screens without driving them away in frustration. Is the sleek new iOS app convincing proof that Facebook can succeed in mobile?
It at least shows investors that Facebook is serious: The new app clearly "has implications for the social network's bottom line," says Julia Boorstin at CNBC. Although the new iPad and iPhone applications look exactly like the old versions, the "big difference" is how much faster and smoother everything loads. Facebook is clearly thinking about the mobile experience, and wants to show "users, advertisers, and investors that it's committed to making mobile drive not only growth, but also revenue."
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Facebook really didn't have a choice: Consumers no longer consider performance a "bonus feature," says Mike Isaac at All Things D, but rather a necessity. The app's performance prior to the update was "embarrassing," especially "considering Facebook is the most installed iOS application in the entire world." Photos took forever to load. Navigating the feed was sluggish. Even starting it up was a chore. Retooling the app is a step in the right direction, and gives Facebook's newly released mobile ad products — like "Sponsored Stories" and "Offers" — a shot at being effective.
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But the app is still a disappointment: "The app is certainly faster," says Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire. But making an app that was already "painfully slow" twice as fast isn't anything to brag out. Facebook admits it under-prioritized performance in favor of growing its user base, no surprise given how long it took them "to address this issue in the first place." Facebook still has a long way to go if it wants to convince us it cares about mobile.
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