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Facebook upgrades iPhone, iPad apps

By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times –

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has rolled out new iPhone and iPad apps rebuilt from the bottom up in a drive to boost speeds and give better performance.

The long-awaited move was part of the social networking giant’s effort to appeal to the growing number of users accessing Facebook from mobile devices.

It was also an attempt to placate mobile users who for years have complained that the old apps were clunky and sluggish. As more of its nearly 1 billion users begin to spend more time on Facebook via mobile apps than via computers, the company is stepping up efforts to improve the mobile experience, as it also feels the heat from Wall Street to make money from mobile ads.

“What they did here is what they should have done in 2008, the year after the iPhone shipped,” said Ajay Juneja, founder and chief technology officer of Speak With Me Inc., an entrepreneur, like many in Silicon Valley.

After a few hours of trying the new iPhone app, Juneja said there was still room for improvement. But the app didn’t crash or time out, and he could load photos and profiles far more quickly.

“Before, it was excruciatingly painful. It made me never want to use Facebook on a mobile device,” Juneja said. “Now it’s dramatically faster.”

Mick Johnson, a mobile product manager at Facebook, said the new app is twice as fast.

When Facebook made its dismal debut on Wall Street in May, one of the main concerns about the business centered on its mobile strategy. Now the Menlo Park, Calif., social networking giant is playing catch-up.

The company has rewired itself to be “mobile first,” meaning every product team is focused on the smaller screen, be it Apple or Android. And it is stockpiling technology and talent with its planned purchase of Instagram and other mobile start-ups.

More than half of Facebook’s users access the service on their mobile devices, and the number is growing. Facebook had 543 million users who accessed the social network from a mobile device in June, up 67 percent from a year earlier. During the same period, the number of overall users rose 29 percent to 955 million.

Johnson said 7,000 different types of devices access Facebook each day.

“We get a lot of feedback from our users,” he said. “People write in. People post. And people comment. We listen to all of that. We also use the app ourselves. It’s the app I use every day. We wanted to fix all the pain points that we felt ourselves.”

Johnson said Facebook took so long to roll out an app with better performance because “we were looking to make sure that everyone who had a mobile device would get a great consistent Facebook experience.”

The new apps are only for Apple’s mobile devices. But Facebook’s Android app has also been widely criticized.

Johnson said that “interesting things are coming in the future for Android.”

Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser said Facebook would keep updating its mobile apps, including for Android, to find the right balance between “the optimal consumer experience and one that can be monetized.”

He said he’s not worried with the pace of mobile innovation at Facebook, despite the tectonic shift to mobile in Silicon Valley.

“This is an iteration, and there will be another iteration and another iteration,” Wieser said. “The vast majority of Facebook usage is still on the desktop and will be for a long time.”

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