Fix This App: Facebook for iOS

Facebook is massive; it'll soon have one billion user accounts. So you'd think that with that many users, the company would have a solid mobile app, Facebook first released its iOS application in July of 2008 and although several refinements and new features have been introduced to the app, now at version 4.1.1, there is still much room for improvement.

Thankfully, changes are coming, as Facebook recently detailed several upcoming fixes to its app including significant speed increases. So with an update looming, we took a look at areas in which Facebook can fix its app.

What it works on: The free Facebook app for iOS runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad. It comes in at 10.5MB and requires iOS 4.0 or later to work. The app is also available for Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, but this article will concentrate solely on the iPhone app experience.

What it does: Facebook for iPhone lets you view updates from your friends, post and comment on photos and posts that others have published to their profiles, and browse your news feed. The app is an attempt to replicate the main features of the Facebook website for when you're on the move.

The mobile app lets you quickly post status updates, share your own pictures, and check in at real-world locations. Friend requests, messages, and notifications are also just a tap away.

What it gets right: The latest version of Facebook for iPhone does a good job of readily providing access to the most popular features of the main site. The app makes it simple to tap out a quick status update, and it clearly presents granular options for tagging your friends, checking in at various places, and tinkering with privacy options for each post.

The photo uploader, while basic and at times slow, works as expected. As is standard for iOS, it lets you take a photo from within the app or choose an existing image from your camera roll library.

The app offers good unity with the main website, offering a host of your most used Facebook areas, be it groups, pages, or apps.

What it gets wrong: The various issues with Facebook’s app aren’t particularly glaring or serious when taken on their own; they’re annoyances that add up to an experience more frustrating than it should be.

Facebook's App Center refuses to load properly.

These little frustrations start when you receive a notification—they'll often simply fail to load. On the occasions when inotifications do load properly, the app may display the same information twice. Even after you check your notifications, the unread notifications badge might not change.

This sort of inconsistency carries across to messages. Facebook Chat, which lets you talk with your friends via IM or private messages, works through the Facebook site, desktop chat apps, third-party services, and Facebook’s stand-alone Messages app. This myriad of apps work well for the most part, but the Facebook app for iPhone often leaves read messages marked as unread.

On many occasions, a message that’s been read minutes, hours, or even days prior will still show as unread as signified by a blue orb. This problem with chat is one that seems to occur across the Facebook platform, but netherless is something that can be doubly frustrating when waiting for an item to load over a cellular connection only to see its something you’ve already read.

An all-too-common sight. Still waiting...

The newsfeed has its own batch of problems. The Facebook app will often lose track of your position while you browse your newsfeed. This typically happens when the app tries to load more items at the bottom of your newsfeed, or when you follow an outbound link, only to return to your newsfeed and find yourself dumped right at the top of your updates again. Argh.

The app also has a number of other minor-but-aggrivating issues including the inability to 'Like' individual comments made on photos, the inability to create an event, missing support for batch-uploading photos (despite the fact that the new Camera app handles this task just fine), and a half-baked approach to privacy settings.

How to fix it: Luckily for Facebook, the app doesn'tneed a major overhaul. Instead, it just needs some fine-tuning to address these various annoyances and plug holes where obvious features are missing.

  • Iron out the loading problems. Facebook need to put some energy into looking at why the app refuses to load content, seemingly at random. It may be a challenge given the sheer volume of people who use the app every day but correcting these issues will make the app that much better.
  • Improve settings. Any Facebook user will tell you that trying to make sense of your account and privacy settings can be frustrating. The Facebook mobile app doesn't help matters, presenting a mix of user interfaces when editing settings which are completly different to those seen across the app as a whole. Make the settings clean, clear, consistent, and easy to understand. Unfortunately, I fear that may be too much to ask.
  • Sort out the inconsistencies. Why do I get a timeline view when I check out a friends profile, but when I look at a fan page (which has a timeline on the main site), I’m presented with a different interface? Why can’t I unfriend people on the go? Why can’t I "Like" comments left on pictures? Little things like these stop users in their tracks. Addressing these would make for a much more uniform and enjoyable experience.

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