Facebook for iPhone users now have access to all the new features for in the official Facebook for iPad app that launched this morning. Now available in the App Store, the 4.0 update includes a major redesign of the navigation system that facilitates quick switching between features, and the ability to access third-party mobile apps.
The new features can also be found on Facebook’s mobile sites m.facebook.com and touch.facebook.com, which can both be accessed from Android phones that have yet to receive native Facebook app update with the lastest changes.
The update to Facebook for iPhone’s 91 million monthly active users and 51 million daily active users gives developers a huge new distribution channel for their mobile web and iPhone apps.
One of the worst things about the old Facebook for iPhone app was the grid screen navigation. If users wanted to switch between in-house Facebook apps such as the news feed, Photos, Messages, and notifications, they had to exit their currently used app to the grid screen, then dive back into another app.
This process was both cumbersome and sometimes caused users to lose their place — something especially annoying when one went to look for new Messages or notifications, saw they had none, and wanted to return to the previously used feature. The slowness of switching apps through the grid screen contributed to Facebook spinning out Messages as a standalone app, and preparing a dedicated native Photos app.
Facebook for iPhone 4.0 reduces the friction of app switching through a slide-out navigation menu that is accessible from any screen and houses all in-house and third-party app bookmarks. Users can open the navigation menu, but then easily close it to resume their previous activity.
Similarly, a floating top navigation bar gives persistent access to Messages, notifications, and requests. When their icons are clicked, an overlaid screen slides up from the bottom and slides back down revealing the previously used app when a user is done.
The navigation menu also houses a revamped search feature from which users can find friends, Pages, apps, Groups, Events, or any other Facebook property. It replaces the tabbed search that clumsily required users to choose what they were searching for first, and didn’t include live links to apps.
When users click on the bookmark, search result, or news feed link for a native iPhone app, that app is instantly launched if already installed, or the App Store is loaded so users can download it. Bookmarks to web apps on Facebook’s new mobile app platform are launched within Facebook for iPhone’s internal browser, and users merely need to confirm their login — they don’t have to reenter their username or password.
Despite Facebook confirming with us that it would remove the Places check-in feed from its smartphone apps, users can still see the locations of friends through a renamed in-house app called Nearby. As before, users can view the checkins of friends as a feed or as photos on a map, as well as add their own check-ins.
The app does lack some of Facebook.com’s newest features. There’s no way to subscribe to someone’s public updates or edit your Friend Lists or Smart Lists. Facebook has also removed the ability to filter the news feed by Friend Lists, which previously allowed users to select to only see updates from a subset of friends. Hopefully these features will be integrated soon.
Facebook for iPhone hasn’t received such a major redesign since its launch years ago. At first, some users will surely be grumpy about having to relearn how to navigate the app. With time, though, we believe users will grow to appreciate the streamlined navigation and ability to access their web and native apps. By becoming an app portal and reducing navigation fatigue, Facebook for iPhone’s 100 million MAU milestone could be right around the corner.
Update 10/13/2011: Bugs in Facebook for iPhone 4.0 caused it to fail to load properly once installed. Facebook has since released 4.0.1 and 4.0.2 updates to fix these issues. Delete, re-download, and reinstall the app if you’re experiencing crashes or it fails to load.
In the release notes of Facebook for iPhone 4.0.1, Facebook explained “Notice to Users Upgrading from an older version: If you’re having trouble starting the app after the upgrade, please delete and reinstall it- this has been confirmed to solve the issue. The update fixes an issue that was causing the app to hang or crash for some users when upgrading from an older version.”