“It’s slow” no more. Facebook answers one its top complaints today with the release of v5 of its iOS app that’s two times faster because it’s built on Objective-C not HTML5. The navigation is mostly the same, but the app launches, photos load, and the feed shows new stories twice as quickly in the new app that is rolling out to the App Store over the course of the day if you don’t see it already.
Content is cached between views, all the features of the Messenger standalone app are now built in, a drop-down “new stories” banner alerts you to fresh news feed content in real-time, and a Facebook for iPad app update lets users view Timeline.
Facebook’s iOS mobile product manager Mick Johnson tells me that “We feel the pain points [regarding slowness] pretty harshly ourselves…so this major update to the Facebook for iOS app is focused on one thing — speed.”
Johnson explained to me why the app felt so sluggish until now. “We deliberately made a trade off to get to scale. We used HTML5 to test and try things out, and people love that in the browser, but they have different expectations of a native IOS app. So with this release we rebuilt the app from scratch over the last 9 months and the main improvement is performance. Now there’s a lot more code built in Objective-C than HTML5.”
Under The Hood Of Facebook’s New Native Speed Racer
Launch – As Facebook writes in its blog post announcing the release, “now the app opens much faster and your news feed and notifications load right when you open Facebook.” Previously it could take up to 10 seconds for the news feed to actually show up. Now I’m getting it in around four seconds. The feed is remarkably responsive, moving instantly at the slightest flick of a finger with a high frame rate, and the navigation sidebar slides out much more crisply, too.
Loading – Unfortunately, Facebook is not pre-loading the screens behind notifications, so there’s still a little lag when you through to a new event or status update you’re tagged in. But Messages, Events, Groups, and other categories definitely open faster.
News Feed – Once you’re in the feed, scrolling down loads stories quicker. If you’re in the middle of the feed and friends publish new updates you’ll see a drop-down banner at the top of your screen noting “New Stories 10+”. You can click it to jump to the top, scroll there yourself, or keep browsing without the feed reloading and you losing your place. A similar “New Comments” bar will show up in real-time when you view individual posts.
Photos – Photos load faster too, and now appear with the Facebook Camera standalone app’s design, using overlaid feedback button, but there’s no filters or batch uploads here yet. To aid one-handed use, you can pull down to quickly dismiss a photo and return to your previous screen without having to reach for the back button.
Messenger – All the features and the interface from Facebook’s Messenger app has now been integrated into the Facebook for iOS app for consistency, including the ability to send friends photos and your location. And to make it easy for the developers, the two apps now share a code base.
If you’re on a Google OS phone, don’t worry. Johnson noted that soon “you can expect similar interesting developments on Android.”
Browse Ads Quicker Too
Johnson stressed that “HTML5 is still incredibly important to us. We get two times the mobile traffic [on m.facebook.com] than from iOS and Android combined.” Still, the reduction in HTML5′s presence in the iOS app will give Facebook less flexibility to quietly test new features. That might make it more prone to shipping changes that accidentally reduce engagement or joy. It also can’t write one set of code and push it to all its apps.
Overall, though, the update should make the hundreds of millions of Facebook for iOS users a lot happier. The speedier app will hold their attention longer, as its those painful loading times when you’re most likely to bounce. This means the roughly 130 million Facebook for iOS users will be more likely to browse the feed for longer and see more ads — which is crucial to Facebook monetizing as its user base shifts to mobile.
But the real win is in the user experience. Facebook for iOS is so responsive you feel physically in touch with the interface. One step closer to being with friends in person.