Flash back a decade ago, to early 2004. XP powered desktops are laptops were practically the only computers you’d see, running either IE6 or an early version of Firefox, and more likely than not connected to the internet via dial-up. Gmail wouldn’t be announced until April, the iPod was still black and white, and Fortune wondered aloud if anyone could ever topple Blackberry. YouTube was still a year away, and Netflix streaming wouldn’t be a thing for 3 years. The iPhone was still over 3 years away, and Android even further.
That’s the world Facebook was launched into.
I have always found the experience of using Facebook for iOS – the Newsfeed in particular, which, for all intents and purposes, is the Facebook experience – to be a bit out-of-place and tedious in general, and it felt almost like it was just a scaled down version of the website. With Paper, it seems Facebook has finally adjusted itself to the realities and limitations of mobile devices and tried to build the best they can within the constraints they have been faced with. The entirety of the largely useless yet omnipresent tab bar has been reduced to three partially opaque buttons, which are hidden from view when viewing individual stories. The entire concept of the navigation bar has been done away with. The Newsfeed now focusses singularly on content, displaying as much of it as it can, and profiles now focus on photos. Sloppy swiping is the order of the day now as it should be, and Paper has one of the best implementations around.
I must admit that my usage of Facebook has considerably changed and increased since its release: I’m not just using Facebook’s iOS apps more, I’m using Facebook a lot more now.
At the same time, however, I still question whether it is the right app for the large majority of use cases that are generally associated with Facebook. The massive crash in download numbers since the early days of the app reflects that.
As of this writing, Paper is only available in the US App Store, where according to App Annie, it doesn’t even feature in the top 500 free apps overall and is only 89th in charts for free social networking apps. The default Facebook app fares much better by contrast; it is 12th in the free overall chart, and 2nd in the social networking category. (As a side-note, the newly revamped Facebook Messenger app one-ups both of these, coming in at 9th in the free overall charts, and 1st in the social networking category).
Strangely then, Paper does fare much better in terms of ratings, coming in with 4 stars for the latest version and 4-and-a-half for all versions (which is coincidentally the same as Facebook Messenger’s ratings), while Facebook.app manages just 3 stars for the latest and 4 stars for all versions, suggesting that while Paper might have a limited appeal as of now, it does really well with the niche that it has found.
I personally really appreciate this new direction, and hope that development on the app continues and makes it better and more accessible for people everywhere. I can only hope with fingers crossed that these terrible download numbers don’t result in it being axed.
Another interesting part of it is that Facebook has open sourced Pop, the custom engine that was used to design Paper’s animations and transitions. This is really exciting in a world where iOS interactions are becoming more and more physics-oriented. I can’t wait to see what more the Paper team and other 3rd-party developers come up with using it.
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