Why Facebook’s mobile apps suck: A developer’s view

I’ll admit it: Contrary to my own expectations I’ve grown to  use Facebook much more than I thought I would have — mainly because it’s the most common point of connection across my many social and interest circles. And I use it more despite Facebook’s persistently horrid user interface.

But Facebook is especially horrendous on mobile. For instance, the Facebook Android app won’t let me share items from other people’s streams, the way the Facebook standard website does.  Also, on the Facebook Android app I can’t tag someone in a status update (like saying “Joe Schmoe loves this kind of sushi.”) — I can only indicate whether I’m “with” someone, which often isn’t the case.

Argh. Gah….

Anyway, today while I’m researching and writing about Facebook’s various mobile problems, I found Kevin C. Tofel’s May 15 GigaOm post: Does your Facebook mobile app suck? here’s why

He summarized findings published in the Mobtest blog. These only looked at problems with Facebook’s iOS app, but they’re interesting even though I’m an Android user. In a nutshell, Facebook’s app relies heavily on web technology (HTML) to deliver content.  There are good reasons for this, but on iOS devices it causes problems.

Here’s how Mobtest summed it up:

Why would Facebook use HTML technology inside a native iOS app?

HTML is easier for displaying fluid content. Objective-C really sucks when it comes to fluid display. An image with text around it, buttons with varying text labels are really hard to create yourself in Objective-C as you have to calculate dimensions and positions of all elements yourself. In particular for a timeline HTML will be much easier.

Creates code that can be shared across different platforms. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone are all different technologies and a developer’s nightmare. Sharing some content/functionality in the form of HTML makes sense.

HTML is much more in line with Facebook’s continuous deployment process. FB developers are responsible for their own QA, and part of that is to push code out to a limited set of servers, see results and then push it out to more and do this each day if not more often. With Apple taking as least a week of review, rolling back a code change is a nightmare.

They can get away with it. Yes Facebook is not a bank, there are no other iOS FB apps out there and we will still use the service as it has a virtual monopoly on social networking with 900 million users now. We just have to suck it up.

Feature phones is where growth is. A very high percentage of iPhone and Android users already have the Facebook app installed. The next frontier is feature phones, in particular in non-western parts of the world. These new users will first encounter Facebook on their mobile, and it will not be a shining iPhone.

OK, that doesn’t explain the boneheaded lack of key features in Facebook’s Android app that I noted, but it could help explain some of the poor performance I’ve experienced — slow load times, lagging updates and push notifications, and lots and lots of crashes.

Tofel, an iPhone user, closed his GigaOm post with this observation:

…For the time being, I’m going to switch to m.facebook.com in my smartphone browser. I did some testing this afternoon and the experience is far faster, up to date and generally offers the same features as the native mobile app.

 

I can haz Android root! And it was easy!

This morning I finally rooted my Droid Incredible! One-handed, even! (Dislocated finger hidden by massive splint.)

This morning, before I even had my tea, I finally jumped off a cliff I’d been avoiding: I rooted my Android phone (Droid Incredible).

I’ve had this phone for a year. Generally I like it, but the things I don’t like about it mostly seemed to be fixable if I rooted my phone.

Rooting means undoing the controls that the carrier and manufacturer place on how my phone operates…

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Google+, Facebook & mobile

I just spent most of the day testing the new Google+ social network service, and its Android app and mobile web app — and writing a review for CNN.com about the mobile experience. Generally, I liked what I saw, despite some glitches. This offering is still really, really beta — but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

My review: Google+ a clean, intuitive mobile experience so far

Clearly Google+ is going head-to-head against Facebook, and I think it has a decent chance of winning in the long run, especially if it includes good mobile integration of core Google services like calendar, Gmail, and docs.

But what about Facebook?…

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Mobile phone security: What are the risks?

On CNN.com Tech today, I wrote a basic overview of the most common current security risks mobile users face, and some basic things you can do to protect yourself:

Mobile phone security: What are the risks?

First on the list was malware — and on that front, Android definitely presents the biggest risk, because it’s such an open platform.

So, anticipating the trolls: Even though I own an Android phone and love it, and have said so several times in my CNN posts, I’m sure I’ll get lots of comments from Android fanboys complaining that I must be on Apple’s payroll.

For the record, no, I get nothing from Apple. In fact, I’m really kinda tired of iPhone fetishization, especially by tech media. I’m not anti-iPhone or anti-Apple (you’d have to pry my macbook from my cold dead fingers)

I used to own an iPhone and liked it well enough, but I AT&T really sucks in the Bay Area, so last summer I traded up to a Droid Incredible, which I generally like better. It’s got its hitches and weirdnesses, but it’s also a pretty cool device.

But being an Android owner has made me far more aware of mobile security. Ultimately, I think that’s a good thing.

So Android fanboys: Chill out. Go get some Doritos. And a reality check.

Neither am I on the payroll of Norton or Lookout, two companies whose products I mentioned as examples of the kinds of tools smartphone users can employ for mobile security. Norton did invite me to their mobile security event in SF. Yeah, I’m a journalist. I go to conferences. I meet with companies to learn what they’re doing. Shocking, I know.

My CNN post also covers premium SMS fraud, phishing, and spyware — and the spyware thing is especially creepy…

Free Kindles, local mobile news, and pissed off fanboys: My recent CNN.com Tech mobile stories

It’s been a very busy month and a half for me. I spent a week in Los Angeles as a featured presenter for the Mobile News Week at the journalism school there, and now I’m finishing preparations to travel to two other journalism schools next week for the Knight Digital Media Center’s Mobile Symposium. So I haven’t been letting Contentious.com readers know what I’ve been writing elsewhere.

But I’ve been logging a lot of cool mobile stuff for CNN.com Tech. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been covering there…

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Finally! Now you now can find Android apps on the web

Last July, as I was preparing to ditch my iPhone for an Android phone, I complained on my CNN Tech mobile blog about how hard it was to find Android apps without an Android phone. There were some workarounds and third-party directories, but still it was much harder than it needed to be.

Why does this issue matter? Prospective Android users (especially people contemplating switching from another platform, like iPhone or BlackBerry) often want to know which apps are available on Android before they commit to that switch.

Today, Google finally corrected this oversight…

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The unwieldy iPad: It just doesn’t fit in my life, either

Earlier this week on GigaOm, Kevin C. Tofel voiced a conclusion I reached last year, after I tried out an iPad for a month: Tablets are definitely not one-size-fits-all. I, too, expect my mobile devices to be truly mobile by being easily portable — and the size and weight of the iPad doesn’t work for me.

THE BEST TABLET IS THE ONE YOU HAVE WITH YOU

The Tab is roughly the same size as, but thicker than Amazon’s Kindle, which ironically I sold when I got my iPad. Prior to iPad ownership, my Kindle would go everywhere with me because of its small size, light weight, stellar battery life and integrated connectivity. And I do mean everywhere: the device would fit in my jacket pocket or could be thrown — figuratively, not literally — in the car or in a gear bag. The Galaxy Tab offers me that same level of portability, while the iPad doesn’t.

Read: Why I Just Dumped the iPad (Hint: Size Matters)

…What’s intriguing for me, since I blog for CNN Tech, is the overall civility and engagement expressed in the comments here. Yes, there are a few fanboys and flamers, but generally it’s pretty civil — and Tofel is participating constructively.

Meanwhile, on CNN, I’m sure that a post which critiqued such a popular product would have generated an immediate torrent of vicious personal slurs — toward the author, and toward other commenters. And if the author was female, the sexual innuendo and sexist comments would be out in force.

I’m not knocking CNN Tech. I’m just saying it’s interesting to see the cultural difference from one venue to another.

Hat tip to Steve Yelvington for pointing to the GigaOm article.

Nokia’s Newer, Dumber Business Model: Sue Apple

More than a year ago, in June 2008, I wrote about how Nokia’s clueless approach to serving the US smartphone market basically handed that market to Apple on a silver platter by the time the 3G iPhone launched.

Last week, GigaOm reported that Nokia is now suing Apple, claiming technology patent infringement. And on Oct. 15 CNET reported on Nokia’s dire slide in the US smartphone market.

According to GigaOm:

“Nokia is looking to collect patent royalties of 1 or 2 percent for each iPhone sold, according to a note from Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, which — given the roughly 34 million iPhone units already in the hands of users — would amount to $200 million-$400 million. That’s not a lot of money to either company, of course. But Nokia is clearly hoping it can be more successful in the courtroom than it’s been in the marketplace.”

Nokia: Really? Is this what you’ve sunk to?

There are far better ways. Here are some options… Continue reading