Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mobile: the new frontier

Today Facebook launched its Facebook Camera app for iPhone.  It's a photo sharing app much like Instagram except that it allows you to share photo on Facebook only.  It is an app that was built to share, view and comment on photos shared by friends around you.  As its name suggests, it does nothing but making photo sharing easy.

Facebook Camera app:
it definitely made it easier to share photos on Facebook
with its laser focus on photo sharing.

This launch is notable in two regards.  One is Facebook's clear intent to expand its mobile presence and the other is that mobile apps are rapidly evolving with user-centered design approach.

Facebook's focus on mobile presence

I will let the following timeline sink in a bit first, mostly from Facebook mobile.
Apr 9th: Facebook announcement of Instagram acquisition for $1 billion
May 1st: Facebook Messenger app with video calling leaked
May 9th: Redesigned Google+ app launched
May 14th: Facebook iPhone app redesigned for better photo viewing
May 17th: Facebook Page Manager app launched
May 18th: Facebook IPO
May 24th: Facebook Camera app launched
Facebook is spending lot of resources on mobile.  No one has quite figured out how to make money on increasing mobile traffic, and Facebook has to be the one solving this problem in order to maintain its high P/E multiples.  It's obvious that Facebook is getting serious about mobile, and spend more resources to capture the mobile users' attention.

User-Centered Design for mobile apps

Instead of overloading one Facebook app to provide growing feature sets to all users, Facebook is leading the way to target different user segments with unique user experience.  When you open your Facebook app, you'll see many menu options on the left hand side: News Feed, Messages, Nearby, Events, Friends, Pages, Groups, Chat, Find Friends, and Applications.  Each of these features are not equally used by users.

For example, users will be spending most of their time browsing their friends news feed while marketers will be interested in seeing how much engagement is generated from their posts.  Younger users are more likely to snap photos and share it with friends than older users.

Facebook is recognizing these varying user behaviors.  They are leading the way in providing compelling user experience for targeted user segment by customizing mobile app for each target user group.

Camera app does this well.  It's built for the users who like sharing, viewing and commenting on friends' photos.  With this limited user experience and target, Facebook was able to optimize the user experience and make the app simpler and faster.

I think this mobile app per feature trend will spread to other social networks.  As discussed in my earlier blog, it's often the case that each product touches multiple user groups and all products have to addresses all user's need from somewhat different perspective.  Designers have to keep in mind that mobile users have shorter fuse than someone sitting in front of 21-inch monitor with their coffee.

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