Mobile is priority number one over at Facebook HQ. Since going public this past summer, the social network has made its intentions to hit mobile hard increasingly clear. While the Web has been kind to Facebook, there have remained some significant hurdles. Mobile, to a point, remains Facebook’s White Whale – and it’s an important one to conquer if the company wants remain, and further become, the ubiquitous social platform for our lives.
To that end, Facebook has introduced a handful of mobile-first, standalone apps – which are, to varying degrees copycats of other successful apps, and have experienced varying degrees of success. Consider this a quick check-up on how Facebook’s mobile product development is faring.
Facebook introduced Camera last spring during the height of Instagramania (phrase trademark pending). While it was definitely a competitor to the favored photo-sharing platform, the fact that Facebook had recently bought Instagram meant that the threat wasn’t as real. Still, Camera was meant to give users a proprietary option for filtering their photos.
So how’s it doing? According to AppAnnie, Camera’s early popularity was shortlived. After releasing the new version back in September, things got a little better, but it’s been on a slow decline ever since.
The thing is, Camera is a very mediocre app – generally, filter apps that aren’t Instagram have been found wanting, at least when it comes to image quality. Instagram has said very little about the technology behind its filters, but images are cleaner, clearer, less pixelated. In short, they’re better — a lot better. Creating these filters is not an easy process (this Quora question has some great answers, including one from Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom), and Camera is sort of a cop out. The drop in downloads, of course, is probably due in part to the fact that Camera has been woven into the original Facebook app itself.
The Facebook chat app was launched nearly two years ago as a better, faster way to message your Facebook friends. It was also largely lauded as a texting workaround, and a means to reaching a person more efficiently – no more guessing about whether you should text, email, instant message … and on and on and on. It kept all private Facebook conversations in one stream instead of scattered.
Messenger was the first standalone Facebook app, and has remained a highly popular download. Facebook continues to improve the product as well, recently introducing free phone calls and voice messages. While apps like Imo.Im and WhatsApp remain popular choices for multi-platform chatting and free texting options, Messenger is certainly a worthwhile, well-managed product – and the stats prove it.
Enter copycat number two. After the swift rise of Snapchat (whose founders should be thanking middle schoolers everywhere), rumors started swirling that Facebook was set to launch its own version. Within mere days, we were introduced to Poke. The clone functions much like Snapchat, complete with all the scary privacy problems that should make any of you out there taking sexy selfies nervous.
However, not long after the release, Poke ratings began to slip – hard. The drop is partially because Snapchat has manage to create an incredibly loyal user community, one that took to the App Store to hate on Poke and defend their beloved Snapchat.
As you can see, Poke has continued to fall (and fall fast) while Snapchat is still sitting pretty at number 14.
So what does this all mean? While App Annie is more like a sampling of what’s happening on users’ smartphones than a conclusive study, it certainly gives us an idea of what is and isn’t working. And what’s working are original products. Messenger, the proprietary Facebook app itself, and the Pages Manager app are all doing well. They’ve managed to sustain relatively even levels of installations instead of the steady declines Poke and Camera have both experienced.
What we’re witnessing is something of a scattered approach. Facebook has issued a handful of standalone apps, reattaching them to the original app to varying degrees (or not at all), and leaving users with a relatively confusing mobile experience. Only a couple of things remain clear: The Facebook app itself is a more robust, much-improved user experience. Copycatting popular platforms or app trends is a losing battle. And lastly, that there is plenty of work to be done. Truly developing innovative, original, user-friendly products that improve using Facebook via smartphone and tablet is supposed to be the priority for Facebook, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Right now, what’s working best for Facebook are apps that, really, just add functionality to Facebook. They aren’t really immersive or interactive or add some new feature to the platform. The attempts Facebook as made in this vein haven’t performed well — and yeah, maybe that’s because they simply tried to clone what other apps had done first and better. It’s time to just stop talking about mobile and make something that captures our attention here, because the Web won’t be enough.