Facebook for iPad: Our Feature Breakdown of the Leaked Official App

Last night, TechCrunch reported that the unreleased Facebook for iPad app was hidden within the code of the latest Facebook for iPhone update, and could be accessed from jailbroken iPads. Now it appears that Facebook has blocked connections from the iPad app, but not before plenty of screenshots of its interface could be taken. Here we’ll breakdown the feature set of the current state of the Facebook for iPad app, which a Techcrunch source says could be released soon in a similar form, though there’s a chance it could be delayed and altered.

A month ago, The New York Times revealed that Facebook had in fact been developing an official iPad app. In its absence, several unofficial iPad apps had gained traction, though they’re now looking to differentiate themselves with games, Twitter integrations, and more.

Traditionally, those opening the Facebook for iPhone app on an iPad only see the iPhone app loaded in the center of the screen. Over the last 12 hours, though, some users have been able to get the tablet-optimized Facebook for iPad app to load when opening the Facebook for iPhone app. They accomplished this by using a jailbroken iPad and changing a UIDeviceFamily setting in the iPhone app.

Now, though, those trying to login through the iPad app are receiving a “Failed Login: Unable to connect to Facebook. Please try again later” error, which may indicate that Facebook has blocked connections in an effort to prevent access before the official launch. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler tells me that he successfully connected last night but is now seeing features that require a connection ceasing to function, such as notifications.

The app is reportedly built on HTML5 so it can import information from m.facebook.com. This is turn allows Facebook’s mobile team to push updates to a single set of code that interpreted by multiple different mobile apps, reducing development time. At this time, there’s no integration for third-party apps and games over HTML5, which Facebook is currently working on.

Overall, the Facebook for iPad app addresses many of the limitations of the Facebook for iPhone interface, improving on navigation, Chat, Photos, and more as we describe below.

Facebook for iPad Feature Set

Sidebar Navigation

The most important difference between the iPad and iPhone apps is that the iPad app allows for navigation through an expandable sidebar menu. At any time, users can click the list icon t reveal the nav menu, from which they can access Facebook’s in-house apps including the news feed, Messages, Events, Places, friends, and Photos, as well as their different Groups. This will allow for speedier movement between apps than on the iPhone app, which requires users to return to a home screen.

A drop-down pop over stemming from one’s own profile in the menu reveals quick links to logout, or access one’s Facebook Account Settings, Privacy Settings, or the Help Center. Same as on the iPhone app, the Account and Privacy Settings links launch mobile-optimized web pages that where settings can be configured.

A search box in the sidebar navigation menu allow users to pull up friends, other users, and Pages. Rather than visiting dedicated screens to view notifications, respond to friend requests, or read and compose Messages as one does on the iPhone, these features are accessed as pop-overs from the top navigation bar. This allows users to quickly check for these types of activity without losing what they’re currently viewing.

Persistent Chat

Chat also uses a sidebar navigation design to permit persistent use while browsing the app. When uses flip the iPad horizontally, their buddy list appears as a right sidebar. Tapping a friend’s name starts a conversation with them, and users switch between the sidebar displaying an active conversation and the buddy list. Unlike the Facebook for BlackBerry PlayBook app’s multi-pane Chat interface, the lack of a full-screen mode adds a bit of friction to carrying on multiple conversations simultaneously. Facebook could offer full-screen access from the sidebar navigation menu in the future, though.

Still, this interface is a huge improvement over the iPhone app’s Chat interface, which requires users to navigate back to the Chat feature each time they want to send an instant message. It should allow for more passive use cases by allowing one to maintain conversations as they watch TV or read the news feed.

News Feed, Places, Events, and Photos

While viewing the news feed, users can upload photos, or publish status updates through a pop-over that includes a lock icon for setting privacy restrictions on the post. As with the iPhone app, users can filter their news feed by story type. Users can check-in through the Places feature, as well as view a map showing the locations of nearby friends.

The Events feature displays a multi-pane interface, allowing users to select an Event on the left and view its details on the right. This will help users who’ve been invited to multiplie events to efficiently plan an itinerary. Clicking the “Birthdays” button in the top right corner reveals a pop-over of upcoming birthdays.

The Facebook for iPad app doesn’t appear to include the special features seen in the leaked mobile photos app, such as filter lenses, multi-shot uploading, or location tagging. However, when viewing a photo from an album, a photostrip at the bottom of the screen allows users to skip around between photos in the album, similar to the iPad’s native photos app and Google+’s photos interface.

Those who haven’t already hacked their way to accessing the Facebook for iPad app and established a connection may have to wait for the official launch of the app. If that release looks like what we’ve seen today, expect the app to quickly gain traction and pull users away from the unofficial Facebook iPad apps. Facebook might choose to move up its launch date in response to the leak, but it also might wait until it can include HTML5 support for games and apps.