Facebook finally friends the iPad, with the release today of its first native app for Apple’s tablet. No longer will you have to peer around a massive black border to update your status, with every pixel of the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen now pressed into action. The app essentially mirrors the latest web interface, with a left-hand menu bar that you can slide in or out with a new menu button – very much like the existing third party app MyPad+.
Slide the menu bar in and another column slides out on the right, showing online friends who available for chat (text only, no video). The news feed has three icons that pop up windows for new friend requests, messages and notifications. Options on the menu bar include pulling up your own profile, viewing a photo matrix of your friends, or checking messages, events and groups. All work really smoothly, with intuitive sliding transitions that load images and text in a flash.
The Nearby link clicks through to a map showing friends’ activity on a zoomable map, and there’s a Check In button at the top right. The Events tab has a special Birthdays button that pops out a window showing only upcoming anniversaries – nice.
Photos opens a full screen of your latest photo albums. Clicking through gives a camera roll of thumbnails then click again for a flick-by-flick slideshow, including pinch to zoom (here’s where you wished you had uploaded your images in high res). Tap a photo and you can Like or Comment on it directly with little icons, or click the Share tab to also tag, save, delete or make it your profile picture. Strangely, photo captions only appear in portrait mode.
The Apps section on the menu bar is looking sparse for now – mine had just Photos and Notes. In the future, you will be able to link out to new HTML5 apps that Facebook can sell you without having to give Apple its 30 per cent cut. Getting this right is rumoured to be one of the main reasons the native iPad app has taken so long to arrive. Finally, the Account Settings screens are very basic – just white space with some tick and text boxes to edit.
The good news for Facebook is that there are no real surprises here. The native apps feels very much like a thoughtful, well-coded mash-up of the web page and third party Facebook apps that are now, sadly, almost certainly doomed.
The real drama here is happening behind the scenes. With the launch of its HTML5 app platform, Facebook is making a play to become the default home page and operating system of tomorrow’s mobile world. Eventually, whether you log on from an iPad, Android device or even a Kindle Fire tablet, Facebook wants to give you the same apps, the same interface… and the same Facebook online shop. Whether it succeeds will depend on just how good those apps are and that shopping experience is – watch this space.