Back at CTIA 2009 Microsoft made several announcements of which one was the creation of a new Facebook application for Windows Phones. Luckily I was able to test this application and the article below will provide a step-by-step overview of the application, as well as highlighting the important features. I will end with some conclusions, but lets first go back to the announcements of CTIA 2009:
“Windows Mobile users will be able to engage and experience some of the most popular global social networks right from their Windows phone, including Facebook, MySpace and Windows Live.” [ref01]
And with a more focus on the social network Facebook this means:
“Microsoft has created a new Facebook application, available for Windows phones for free* in April, that makes it easy for people to capture video on their phone and upload it to Facebook.” [ref01]
Before I will start with the application overview I want to present a screen shot of the web interface on my notebook of the Facebook social network. Using this as a starting point, it will be easier to compare functionality between the different platforms as well as looks and feel. Special focus on the four buttons in the blue topbar: (1) home, (2) profile, (3) Friends, (4) inbox.
Step by Step Overview of the Facebook Application
The first important fact is that there is one single cab-installer for both Windows Mobile Professional and Windows Mobile Standard. I dropped the cab-installer into Microsoft Live Mesh, synchronized and installed the Microsoft Facebook application on both the HTC Touch Diamond 2 and my Samsung BlackJack II.
When you launch the application for the first time, you get the login-screen, analogue to the web interface on a desktop or notebook computer. Personally I have set to remember the username and password, so checking out my Facebook is just one-click away. Now I will zoom in on the functionality of the application, walking through it step by step, and referring to the same functionality on the web interface. The Facebook application is branded in the familiar blue and white Facebook colors, and has five main tabs for easy navigation. Four of those tabs are also in the web interface of Facebook on my Lenovo X60 tablet.
Tab 1: Home
The first tab of the interface is the “home”-tab, which makes perfectly sense to place there from a usability perspective. In the screen shot you can see that below the top navigation bar (with blue tabs) there is a light blue / grey sub-navigation-bar. In this sub-navigation-bar, different “views” of your Facebook page can be chosen: News Feed, Status Updates, Photo’s, while with the softkeys you can “refresh”, update your status or simply add a photo or video. In other words, the softkeys are for active action items / commands, while the tabs are for filtering specific information. Furthermore the screen shot above shows the requests for both friends, and groups.
The News Feed simply aggregates all the updates of information (status / photo’s) of you and your Facebook Friends comparable to the overview of the Facebook web interface. If you login to Facebook using Internet Explorer, the News Feed is also the default view over there. Next to the name, the update message is shown as well as the time it was posted; e.g. “9 minutes ago”
The sub-navigation-bar tab “status updates” provides a list overview of just all the status updates of you and your Facebook Friends. Photo’s and other supported applications for mobile are not included in this view. Again username, status update, and time are shown in a nice overview.
This tab purely focuses on the pictures you or your Facebook Friends upload to the Facebook page. You can add a photo, or comment on a photo of a Facebook Friend. It is even possible to tag a Facebook Friend in a picture, which is also on of the main features using the web interface of Facebook. Tagging people on a photo makes it easier to fiend them in a group-picture for example.
Overall the first tab is primarily focused on gathering and aggregating different types of information into an easy to filter interface. Furthermore this first tab is very similar in look and feel to the web interface of Facebook, although in the desktop version more different applications are supported within the desktop-browsers.
Tab 2: Profile
An essential part of being part of a social network is a description of who you are, summarized in a profile page. A formal definition on Wikipedia states:
“A user profile (userprofile, or simply profile when used in-context) is a collection of personal data associated to a specific user. A profile refers therefore to the explicit digital representation of a person’s identity.” [ref02]
Let us have a look at the implementation in the webinterface of Facebook. There in the profile page, three tabs can be found which are also present in the Facebook Application for Windows Phones. Below the three main parts of the profile page are dicussed in more detail, so read on.
The first building block of the Facebook profile is the so called wall. Personally I like the world wall, like in graffiti wall, where you can leave a message for the other person. The wall not only consists of your personal status updates, but also your most recent activity.
The second part of the Facebook profile is an overview page wist your most important information and interests. Again in the web interface of Facebook the info-page consists of several categories:
- Basic Information; (gender, birthday, hometown, etc.)
- Personal Information; (activities, interests, favorite music, etc.)
- Contact Information; (phone, e-mail, website, etc.)
- Education & Work;
Like shown in the screen shots above, the Microsoft Facebook Application presents all this information in a clear overview, which makes it easy to share or compare. Besides that it gives some additional personal information, compared to for instance the more professional aimed LinkedIn network.
Finally photo’s are a very powerful way to express yourself, or are simply fun to share with your Facebook Friends. In some respect these photo’s describe who you are, and therefore a place on the profile page is the most logic place in the application structure. From within this tab in the sub-navigation-bar the user has a quick overview of the different profile pictures or albums. Also it is a piece of cake to take a picture with the camera on your Windows Phone and upload it to your Facebook page.
While the first “home” tab was mainly focused on the aggregation of news and showing that in a schematic overview, the second tab labeled profile if mainly focused on a description about your self. This is reflected by your interaction with Facebook contacts and your status updates and activity, as well as by your photo’s and information page.
Tab 3: Friends
In the top navigationbar of web interface on my notebook, there is also a button labeled “Friends”. On the web it provides an alphabetic overview of all your Facebook friends, and in the mobile version this is not very different. Your Facebook friends are grouped, per character of the alphabet. Under the name of the Facebook friend, you see their last status update on one line.
Clicking on a Facebook Friend, you can either have a look at their profile using “view profile” or sent them a message via “message”. The left soft key is labeled with the “search” command, which opens up a search box to search through your list with Facebook Friends. Via the right softkey you can apply filters: “everyone” “status updates” “recently updated” to easily filter your Facebook Friends. The screen shots above provide an overview of the functionality within this tab.
Tab 4: Inbox
While in the previous tab an overview is given from your network of Facebook Friends, the following tabs (4 and 5) are mainly focused on the communication and interaction with these Facebook Friends on your Windows Phone. The naming of this tab is perhaps a little strange “Inbox”, why not call it messaging ?? However there probably is a good reason to for that.
The inbox provides an overview of the incoming messages, just like you are used with your e-mail program (Microsoft Outlook for instance). You can either select a message in your inbox and press the right softkey key labeled menu, to execute familiar commands like “reply”, “mark as unread”, “delete” and “refresh”. Another scenario is that you want to compose a message, simply by hitting the left softkey “compose”, resulting in a very e-mail like experience.
The same anology is applicable to the sent tab on the inbox-sub-navigation-bar. (A copy of) the Sent messages are listed in this folder view, again comparable to the familiar e-mail experience you are used to both on a Windows desktop / notebook or Windows Phone. Compared to the web interface of the Facebook Inbox page, there are slightly less selection-filter-options.
The notifications tab on the sub-navigation-bar consists of information about Facebook Friends who have commented on your status updates, or simply like an update. Furthermore it lists applications who Facebook Friends would like to let connect with your profile, like entering your birthday in their calendar.
The three sub-navigation-tabs can also be found in the Facebook web interface in the same order. The sub-navigation-tab “updates” with general information about Facebook updates is missing. However this is fully understandable, because it makes no sense to include this in a mobile application. It’s probably not of your first interest to interact with your friends.
In the screen shots, which cover the first home-tab, a number of requests is shown on top of the screen (just below the blue main-navigation-bar). However it just states the number, without further details about who is requesting or the kind of request (friend request vs. group or fan of request).
In the web interface of Facebook the requests have a main position on the “Home” page. And from there you can use the “see all command” to get an overview and details about the request. Microsoft included the requests which are essential for making new friends in the “Inbox” tab as a kind of special set of notifications. I can understand this reasoning from a design perspective, but that is just a personal opinion. However it is very helpful to handle requests while being on the move.
Overall this “Inbox” tab is mainly focused on the written communication and interaction with existing and/or new Facebook Friends. The experience is very familiar with the desktop experience, and even your e-mail client.
Tab 5: Phonebook
The last tab might be one of the most clever implementations on a Windows Mobile Phone. This Phonebook tab is missing in the web interface (for now) of Facebook. Perhaps in the future it might be helpfull to integrate with VOIP software also on a Windows Mobile Phone.
In the info-part of the second tab “Profile”, Facebook Friends who have entered one or more (mobile, work, home) phonenumbers can easily be called from within this tab. The list overview is comparable with the Friends view in the 3rd tab. However now the number is shown under the bold Facebook Friend name. For Contacts who have entered more phonenumbers, the familiar pivot mechanism, is used to switch between the different numbers.
This tab is a very powerful and clever way to connect over voice with your Facebook Friends, without first having to enter your Phone Contacts or opening up the dailerscreen, and call from there. Now the scenario is fast, direct, and from within the Facebook application.
Conclusions and Personal Thoughts
After a pretty extensive step-by-step overview of the Microsoft Facebook application for Windows (Mobile) Phones it is time to draw some pre-limanary conclusions and give some early thoughts.
Microsoft provides one single cab-installer of the application, which installs without problems on Windows Mobile Professional and Windows Mobile Standard devices.
The user experience on Windows Mobile Professional and Windows Mobile Standard devices is the same as a result of a good clear and intuitive structure.
The blue / light blue / grey colorscheme gives a real Facebook look and feel. Almost the same structure as the Facebook web interface, really contributes a lot to this feeling.
The interface has a really clever design: (tab 1) news aggregation and overview, (tab 2) personal details and profile, (tab 3) your Facebook Friends, (tab 4) messaging and written communication with your Facebook Friends, (tab 5) phonebook, to easily call your Facebook Friends.
The structure of the user interface has clear transition from information overview towards communication and interaction, in other words: “interacting on a social level”.
In the information which is provided to the press some unique keypoints of the application are highlighted, which are complementary to my personal thoughts above. Have a good look at the list below:
- “This Facebook application is the only version on the market today offering the ability to upload video right from the phone.
- Facebook users will also be able to share many of their Facebook activities, including photos and status updates, across the full range of Windows Live services.
- People will also be able to access status updates, friend requests and photo tags, as well as read and create wall posts, share photos, send messages and update profile pictures.” [ref04]
In addition some personal thoughts and questions about the announcement of the Microsoft Facebook application for Windows Mobile Phones:
Recently Microsoft has launched a number of applications and services: Netflix Client for Windows Mobile, Microsoft MyPhone, Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Tellme One Button Voice Access, etc. Is Microsoft diverging their focus from just delivering the Windows Mobile OS towards a complete solution with added applications and services ?
Personally it’s a little strange to look at Microsoft as an application developer on their own Windows Mobile platform.
First I hope this step-by-step overview of the Microsoft Facebook application gives an idea of the embedded features. If you are a Facebook user, who uses a Windows (Mobile) Phone this is a must have application. With the growing interests and importance of social networks, it’s really helpfull that a Facebook application for Windows Mobile hits the market (there are already many Twitter clients out there, but no Facebook client).
“The app will be available as a free download from www.windowsmobile.com/facebook (or directly from your mobile Web browser at http://mobile.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/en-us/downloads/facebook.mspx).” [ref04]
- PRESSPASS: Microsoft Gains Support for Next Generation of Windows® Phones
- WIKIPEDIA: User Profile
- WINDOWS MOBILE: Official Facebook for Windows Mobile: Features and Availability!
- PRESS INFO: Keypoints of Facebook Application for Windows Phones