High hopes for Facebook's rumored iPad app

So long as there’s been an App Store, there’s been an official Facebook app for your iPhone. The iPad has been another story—Facebook hasn’t produced a native app for Apple’s tablet, leaving that need for third-party developers to fill.

That’s about to change, though, if a New York Times report proves correct. The newspaper says that Facebook will soon unveil its first official iPad app.

If so, it will be quite a course correction for Facebook. As recently as November 2010, CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that the “iPad isn’t mobile” to explain his company’s lack of a dedicated app for the tablet. Either the iPad’s either become more mobile, or Zuckerberg’s become less short-sighted. And it’s about time.

If Facebook is producing its own iPad app, it would do well to bring its home screen-style approach to Apple’s tablet.

Despite some strengths, those third-party Facebook app clients are all lacking; even the best ones like Friended pale in comparison to Facebook’s iPhone app’s functionality. And many do little more than skin Facebook’s touch-optimized site—which, while admittedly good, still isn’t a native app.

If Facebook is finally ready to release an iPad app, I have a clearer sense of what I want that app to do, after testing many of those third-party apps on my iPad. I’d like Facebook to recreate its successful pseudo-home screen navigation on the iPad, because I think it works brilliantly on the iPhone. Those icons on the iPhone make it easy to jump to specific sections—your News Feed, your profile, Places, Chat—and to bookmark specific pages, too. Bringing that functionality to the iPad makes good sense; no third-party has yet emulated it well.

And, of course, the app should make scrolling through your News Feed painless: auto-updating as you scroll down, with easy access to tapping Like or adding a comment.

That said, Facebook’s official iPad app shouldn’t merely recreate its iPhone interface. The iPad obviously offers a lot more screen real estate, and Facebook should exploit it. Just like Twitter and Mail show sidebars on the iPad that don’t appear on the iPhone, Facebook should consider making core navigation elements permanent on the iPad. And if Facebook can figure out a way to keep Facebook Chat omnipresent throughout the app—just as it does on the website today—that will be excellent. I could imagine a Words With Friends-style popover chat window that’s always in the app’s top bar, incrementing your unread message count.

Facebook set the bar high for itself by creating (and regularly updating) a truly impressive iPhone app. Thus, I have high hopes for Facebook’s iPad app. Given just how long the company’s taken to work on the app, I hope it’s taken the time to perfect it. With any luck, we’ll know soon enough.

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