25 August 2012
Social Media
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Facebook claims that the 5.0 version of the app opens and operates significantly faster on the iPhone and iPad

by arstechnica

Facebook claims that the 5.0 version of the app opens and operates significantly faster on the iPhone and iPad than it did in its previous iterations, which Facebook touts as evidence that it’s retooling the way it thinks so that it’s a “mobile first” company.

Facebook’s previous app—particularly the version just before this, 4.1.1—did not have a good reputation. Ratings on the App Store hovered around the two-star mark, and on any given day, a search on either Facebook or Twitter would yield hundreds of complaints about the mobile app’s slowness or bugginess. And sometimes the app would notify you of new activity on your wall, only to go to your wall and not be able to find new comments or “likes” until several refreshes later.

The new app, however, doesn’t appear to have these issues. I went hands-on with Facebook 5.0 on both the iPhone and iPad, but this post will mostly focus on the iPhone version (largely because that’s the version I use the most). Indeed, just as Facebook claims, the app loads very quickly compared to the last version, and tapping around on the interface is noticeably speedier. Some of the interface elements look a little different, but overall the functionality is mostly the same as what you’re already used to. The left sidebar in particular—where you can choose between your news feed, your own profile, messages, and so on—looks the same, as does your general news feed aside from photos.

When posting a photo to your Facebook stream, the interface is streamlined; the main option is where you want to grab the photo from. Once you choose a photo, you are then presented with other posting options, such as which groups you want to include or whether you want to add a geotag .

Once you posts a photo, you can tap on it to view the photo in fullscreen.  Otherwise, things are largely the same, aside from some restyled buttons. One thing Facebook did add on the user side is a pop-down from the top that shows you how many new posts were made since you started scrolling (see above). When you tap the notification, it will take you to the top so you can view the new posts.

According to Facebook software developer Jonathan Dann, part of the reason for the increase in speed is because Facebook finally ditched its old Three20 framework, which it had been using since the days when iOS was called iPhone OS. Dann also elaborated on why Facebook had previously decided to use HTML5 for all its apps across platforms—wide compatibility, mostly—and why the team wanted to change that this time around.

“[W]hile utilizing [HTML5] has allowed us to support more than 500 million people using Facebook on more than 7000 supported devices, we realized that when it comes to platforms like iOS, people expect a fast, reliable experience, and our iOS app was falling short. Now that our mobile services had breadth, we wanted depth,” Dann wrote. “So, we rewrote Facebook for iOS from the ground up (I really did open up Xcode and click ‘New Project’) with a focus on quality and leveraging the advances that have been made in iOS development.”

Indeed, the “native-ness” of Facebook 5.0 is noticeable on the iPhone—it’s a shame the company didn’t decide to write its iOS apps in Objective-C to begin with, but it’s certainly better late than never. There are some places within the app in which the team is still making use of HTML5, though: “For areas within the app where we anticipate making changes more often, we will continue to utilize HTML5 code, as we can push updates server side without requiring people to download a new version of the app,” Dann wrote.

The company pointed out that the code used in Facebook’s other iOS apps—the dedicated Camera app and the Messenger app—have now been rolled into the main Facebook app, keeping the code a bit more consistent and allowing for a smoother user experience. As we noted in May when we did a hands-on of the Camera app, Facebook took many cues from its recent acquisition of Instagram while still remaining different enough to warrant keeping both apps on your phone.

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