Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

Facebook for Android: Better, Harder, Faster, Stronger

Facebook_android_updateApple-loving Facebook users have had it nice for a while. After a massive update back in August, the iOS app saw huge improvements in speed and quality. Basically, Facebook’s mobile app came with a whole lot less awful.

On Thursday, the other side of the smartphone-loving world won’t feel so left out.

Facebook will update its Android smartphone app on Thursday afternoon, drastically increasing the speed and performance to twice what it was before.

As you’ve probably noticed over the past two years, Facebook on both Android and iOS has been terribly slow. Part of the reason for that included a company-wide bet on using HTML5 under the hood, a Web-centric philosophy that many in the tech industry profess to be the future of the Internet.

Problem is, most would agree that HTML5 just isn’t there yet. Using “native” code, or code used specifically for iOS and Android programming, developers are able to create better, more responsive applications. It’s a difficult concept to grasp until you feel the difference between an HTML5-based app and a native version of the same.

The other problem: There are far more Android devices out there than iOS ones. Configuring the app to work across all of them was no easy feat.

“There’s a combinatorial explosion of Android devices, base operating systems, carrier customizations and other things that play into this,” Mike Shaver, Facebook mobile engineering director, told me this morning. “But that also means its a broad opportunity to improve Facebook’s global reach.”

So, like its iOS counterpart, Facebook built the new Android app from the ground up again, this time using native Android code. Among the improvements, you’ll notice the app launch faster, and photos and News Feed will move speedier than before.

Sort of important, considering the speediness we see on other, very mobile-focused apps like Twitter. Not to mention the mass migration of desktop users to Facebook’s mobile devices. If you’re trying to serve more mobile ads across smartphones and tablets, you probably want a fast-moving application to carry it out. A sluggish app is, ultimately, an unused app.

Just in time, too. It’s the busiest advertising time of the year, as companies the world around are burning through the remainder of their ad budgets as Q4 comes to an end. Probably nice to have a speedier version of Facebook to deliver those ads.

But let’s not reduce everything down to monetization. Facebook just needs to create good, fast-moving apps — period. You want your users to stay in the site, and for that you need every access point to work well. (Plus, it must have been hard to say you’re a Facebook mobile engineer back when the app was terribly slow. These folks take pride in their products, so I’d imagine they’d want to put out performance parity with the rest of the industry.)

Expect the new version of the app to roll out in the Google Play store this afternoon.

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