Just as Facebook for iOS got a complete native overhaul, it’s come to light that the company’s Android app is not highly considered within it’s own walls. But according to the company’s own employees, things are about to change for the better.
Prior to Facebook for iOS’ update to version 5.0, both platforms used the company’s HTML5-based mobile site within a native app wrapper, making the experience slow, buggy and unreliable. Many features we took for granted on the desktop, too, were not present on mobile.
The company’s director of mobile engineering has taken to Reddit to address some of those concerns, and they’re encouraging to say the least.
Yes, your hope is justified. Facebook is committed to both Android and iOS, and you’ve now seen what we can do. Stay tuned. (There are things in the Android app that aren’t in the iOS one today, like mentions in posts and comments, photo multi-upload, event creation. Since version 1.9 the Android app has tested faster than the iOS one, but FB-iOS 5.0 obviously changes the game.)
Android presents some unique challenges for developers, especially those with a large user base, but we do and will power through them. A lot of time is spent dealing with device-specific issues and limits, and you really have to fight with the toolkit to get iPhone-smooth interactions. Some vendors have a different HTTP stack (!), none implement the Camera APIs consistently, and reliability of hardware acceleration is…imperfect, GC pauses are terrible, lots of the toolkit insists on doing real work on the UI thread and allocating recreationally. On iOS you can test on 5 devices and basically have the market covered. We have to test on many dozens to get to the top 1/3 of our users, and then the tail starts to get reallylong. I fought with some of these problems during the port of Firefox to Android, but there are a whole new set when you start to use more of the toolkit.
The proof will be in the app we ship you, of course, and text is cheap. But I see lots of smart people at the office every day who want to build an amazing app, and I’m psyched. I can’t wait to come back here in a little while and bask in your praise — or at least read a litany of more minor complaints!
It’s clear that developing for Android, across hundreds or even thousands of devices, poses a huge challenge to any mobile developer, even one with as many resources as Facebook. While things are improving, especially with the maturation of SDKs and the solidifying of API standards across devices and versions, Android is not quite the development haven users have been hoping for.
Here’s hoping that Facebook ships a native version for Android sooner than later. On the positive side, though, there are a number of third-party alternatives such as Friendcaster and Fast for Facebook that are much faster and more full-featured than the company’s work-in-progress official app.