Social for iPad

Facebook‘s iPhone app is a perennial App Store bestseller. But to date, the company has seemed content to rely on Mobile Safari as the main conduit to its social network on the iPad, releasing no native app for the larger device.

Social for the iPad, a $2 app from Object Factory, aims to create an unofficial Facebook experience on the iPad. It is somewhat successful.

The app does plenty of things right. It bests even Facebook’s open iPhone offering, in terms of providing access to just about everything you can find on the Website itself. You can browse your newsfeed, the most recent posts, just status updates, and filter by your own custom lists. You can save Favorites, for people or fan pages you want to stalk, without missing a beat. You can browse your own Facebook profile, along with your friends list, friend requests, notifications, and messages. And under the More tab, Social gives you access to Groups, Pages, Events, Places, Chat, Photos, Links, Notes, and Search.

If there’s something that you like to do on the Facebook Website, you can generally do it within Social. But the experience isn’t quite as seamless as I’d like it to be.

Social makes me log in again if it’s been some unspecified amount of time since I last launched the app. (Facebook on the iPhone keeps me logged in unless I log out manually.) Although the app uses traditional Web views to expose Facebook content, it doesn’t let you use the familiar zooming gestures you’re accustomed to on iOS devices. You can’t pinch or double-tap to zoom–even when you click on links to other Web pages, which open within the app. That’s a frustrating design choice.

Another odd design choice is Social’s overzealous embracing of the Facebook blue. Facebook uses a lot of blue, so the hue certainly has a place in Social. But Facebook also employs light gray on some buttons, and for some reason Social reskins those in blue, too. The result on some screens–notably lists of people who Liked something–is an unpleasantly dominant overabundance of dark blue buttons wherever the eye can see.

Sometimes Social’s less-than-stellar design choices come from necessity. On Facebook’s Website, certain options only become available when you move your mouse over certain sections, but before you click. You can’t hover the same way on the iPad, since as soon as you touch something, it counts as a click. That forces Social to show those options all the time–so, for example, every single post and comment on your profile sports an X to remove it. It gets a bit overwhelming.

As I hinted at the outset, Social’s primary competition on the iPad is Mobile Safari. Accessing Facebook either way is imperfect. When you tap to pop up a list of people who like something, for example, that list appears at the top of the screen–even if you’re currently scrolled far down the page. If you don’t know to jump back up to the top, you can wrongly assume that nothing’s happened at all.

But in other tangible ways, Facebook in Mobile Safari shows serious advantages over Social. I can zoom in, I can open links in other tabs, and I can find everything in exactly the same place that I see it when I surf the site using my desktop–since indeed, it’s precisely the same site.

All that said, though, Social does a lot right. The app organizes Facebook content smartly, and removes clutter like ads and promotional modules. If you’re unsatisfied surfing Facebook with Safari on the iPad, Social will likely please you. If, on the other multitouching hand, you’re happy with Mobile Safari already, there’s no clear reason to purchase Social.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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