MyPad and the Coming Facebook Wars on the iPad

9/2/11Follow @wroush

Why on earth isn’t there an official Facebook app for the iPad? The social networking giant has had an iPhone app ever since the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008, and the company says that more than 250 million people access Facebook through mobile devices. Its engineers have tried to make the Facebook website touch-friendly, but it still doesn’t work well in Safari, the iPad’s built-in Web browser. So you’d think Facebook would want to do more for the tens of millions of people who now have iPads, from the President to the Pope.

Well, when you put the fact that hackers found a test version of an iPad app embedded inside Facebook’s iPhone app back in July together with the widespread speculation that Facebook will officially launch this app at its f8 developer conference on September 22, it looks like a Facebook iPad app is now a fait accompli. So the real question should probably be “What took so long?”

The only public clues about that came in a November 3, 2010, press conference, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the iPad is “not a mobile platform in the same way that a phone is.” Facebook mobile head Erick Tseng, backpedaling a bit for his boss, explained that the company was waiting to see how the tablet market evolves. “The broader question,” Tseng said, is “how do we scale for a tablet form factor in a way that doesn’t lock us into a specific platform.”

Nick Bilton, head of The New York Times‘ Bits blog, provided extra context in June. He cited unnamed “people briefed on Facebook’s plans” who said the company has actually been laboring on an iPad app in secret for almost a year, and that it has “unique features” and a “slick design” that apparently required lots of development work and testing.

Whatever the reasons, Facebook’s slow and careful approach to the new platform has left a gap in the mobile marketplace big enough for an army of third-party developers to march through. If you browse the iTunes App Store, you can find more than a dozen native iPad apps that tap into your Facebook account and present your friends’ status updates, photos, and so forth using a vaguely Facebook-like interface. They include names like Facely, fPad, FPremium, FriendCaster, Friended, Friendly, iFace, Liike, Pica, and Venus. (One sad but amusing entry is called People Who Deleted Me on Facebook.)

Friendly and Friended are probably the most appealing apps on this list. But almost all of them are doomed.

You can’t blame developers for being opportunistic (or should I say apportunistic?)—that’s what being an entrepreneur is about. But very few of these apps offer anything uniquely useful or sticky. They’re just tablet-sized reworkings of the familiar Facebook elements. As soon as Facebook officially unveils its own iPad app—which, as video bloggers have documented, will likely incorporate the service’s news feeds, photos, chat, messages, events, places, and everything else—there will be little demand for the third-party apps.

There is, however, an exception, and it’s a very interesting one. It’s an eight-month-old app called MyPad, and it’s the creation of a five-man startup called Loytr, which is based at Dogpatch Labs in San Francisco. With more than 17 million downloads under its belt, MyPad is ranked as the top Facebook app for the iPad in the iTunes App Store. Loytr founder and CEO Cole Ratias says the app has a million daily active users, who have the app open for an average of 20 minutes per day. That’s the kind of engagement rate that most mobile developers would kill for. The recently released iPhone version of MyPad is also a top-10 app, and earns more stars from users than the current version of Facebook’s own iPhone app.

Like Twitter’s widely praised iPad app, MyPad is built around a system of sliding, stacking columns. (In fact, it largely replaces the Twitter app, since you can use it to view your Twitter timeline and publish your own tweets. You can’t yet see Twitter mentions, retweets, lists, or profiles, however.) The app’s biggest selling point, from my point of view as a content hound, is that you can easily … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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