Hands On With the Facebook iPad App
Facebook this week (finally) unveiled a dedicated app for Apple’s iPad. The app, which takes full advantage of the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen, borrows a lot of its flavor from the Facebook Web site, and very little from theFacebook iPhone app. [Update: The iPhone app saw a refresh on October 11 as well (version 4.0.1) so that it looks remarkably similar to the iPad app.]
"Visual" is the name of the game with the Facebook iPad app. Photos take the spotlight. Friends appear by their profile images, with typed names minimized. Even with location-tagged status updates, photos of your friends are pinned to a large map to point out their whereabouts. The app is more of a feast for the eyes than the fingers. While you can tap, touch, swipe, drag, pinch, and otherwise put your fingers on the app, the experience plays more to the visual senses.
The Facebook iPad app has taken a curiously long time to appear, although it was perhaps slowed down by other changes to the site, including the addition of Spotify earlier this year, as well as the never-ending changes to privacy controls, which keeps the company busy enough. Questions of privacy certainly crossed my mind several times while I had my hands on the app, explained in more detail below.
The big feature worth highlighting in the Facebook iPad app is support for multiple accounts. If you manage more than one Facebook account, this feature is a huge win.
Other features largely mimic Facebook.com, which is good for consistency’s sake (I value consistency, personally), but a little underwhelming if you were expecting a wholly unique experience on the iPad. Consistent features, like the news feed acting as a home page, and buttons that pull up summaries of your messages and friend requests, remove any hint of a learning curve in getting to know this app. If you use Facebook, the app is amazingly intuitive.
When you update your status on Facebook from the iPad app, Facebook will prompt you to include your location. You don’t have to share your location, but if you do, your friends will be able to see where you are. For a peek at how it will appear to them, see image 14 in the slideshow above.
Images are the big draw for the Facebook iPad app. Anywhere images are used, they’re more prominent on the iPad than the smartphone app or Web site. The iPad app’s design pushes the visuals more, emphasizing faces over names. It’s about who you "see" more than whom you "know." As I tried out the app, I found myself looking at the profiles and photo albums of friends I hadn’t seen in several years, because the app drew me toward faces rather than familiar names.
Browsing through a friend’s photos is a much nicer experience on the iPad than on a smartphone, where images can be very slow to load and have to been viewed one at a time.
When you first launch the app, you’ll see a pop-up or push message at some point announcing new changes to privacy controls. The information explained in this "privacy tour" isn’t anything new. All it does it explain what some of the icons mean and the verbiage used with them, such as the difference between "all friends" and "public" (answer: there is no difference; Facebook just changed the words it uses). I found the privacy tour totally unhelpful, but it could act as a reminder to review your privacy settings and review Facebook’s default settings.
A location-based status update feature may come with privacy concerns for some, and if that’s you, the message here is: don’t use the location feature. Always decline it. When you enable it, your location in the world will be visible to your friends on a map.
On the flip side—as a person who can see the location of others—the feature is visually appealing. A large map shows friends "nearby," their profile picture pinned to the location. "Nearby" is a relative term, as you can pinch to zoom in or out of the map to see people near and far.
You can adjust all your privacy settings on the iPad app, but they’re displayed in a way that takes time and focus to understand and change appropriately. I’m also skeptical that putting the time in to learn what they mean and set them to your liking is an ongoing process, as Facebook has a history of changing them, and telling you about it after the fact.
Another page in the account settings area, called Email, lets you turn on notifications so that you receive an email when certain action occur, like when someone tags you in a photo. In September 2011, Facebook turned off a lot of these notifications (and sent an email to users announcing the change to their settings), so if you haven’t revisited your email alerts in a while, it’s a good time to review them and make sure you re-enable anything that had been turned off without your consent.
Facebook for iPad
If you’re a heavy Facebook user, the iPad app provides a new and intriguing experience, one that’s visually appealing and more explorative than what the other versions of the platform have to offer. The iPad app takes advantage of some of the capabilities of the iPad in an elegant way.