Facebook has rewritten its iOS app with an eye on speed, but the real story isn’t about the app’s features — it’s about how the app was rebuilt and what it represents in the bigger picture.
The company claims that the app is twice as fast as the previous version; I can’t confirm that number, but I have downloaded the new version and it’s definitely a faster experience. There aren’t many new features to talk about — this update is all about speed on the user side.
But there’s a more significant change behind the scenes. Facebook has abandoned the web-based HTML 5 programming language and rewritten the app in iOS’s native language. Facebook’s Jonathan Dann explains why in a post on the company’s engineering blog:
HTML5 has historically allowed us to keep the Facebook mobile experience current and widely available, and has been instrumental in getting us to where we are today….
So while utilizing [HTML 5] 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.
How important is the new app to Facebook? Important enough that it timed the news with a PR outreach to the New York Times and other outlets. Speaking to the Times, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s VP of Engineering, says it represents the Facebook’s shift to a “mobile-first” company.
We have basically retooled and focused the company around mobile. It’s been a huge change.
Facebook says it has 543 million active monthly users on mobile devices — more than half of its overall active user base. That number, and the percentage of overall usage, will only grow in the future. Keeping those users happy and active has to be the company’s focus now, so that it can also figure out a way to better monetize the mobile experience. Facebook’s mobile growth and its struggles to fit advertising into the mobile environment are among the primary reasons that the company’s stock has fallen to about half of its opening day price.
Look for a much stronger mobile emphasis from Facebook in the future, including its upcoming integration into the iOS 6 framework — something that will surely increase mobile activity on Facebook.