If Mark Zuckerberg didn’t get the point across earlier this week, a group of top Facebook managers made it clear at a press briefing Thursday: Facebook understands mobile computing is key to the company’s future.
“We’ve retooled the company to build faster on mobile,” Facebook director of product management Peter Deng told reporters during an informational session at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. In the past, he explained, Facebook had separate engineering teams working on mobile, photos, messaging and other products. Today, he said, the company has integrated mobile engineers into all of its product teams.
Other managers expanded on a statement that Zuckerberg made during his appearance at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, where he said Facebook’s “biggest mistake” in the last two years was the decision to base its mobile interface on HTML5 programming standards. (If anyone in the audience thought Zuckerberg was going to say Facebook’s biggest mistake was anything to do with its IPO, they were bound for disappointment.)
Mobile product manager Mick Johnson acknowledged Thursday that building on HTML5 meant that Facebook’s mobile app for Apple and Android devices resulted in a level of performance that “wasn’t what our users expected” and it “wasn’t what we were happy with, either.” Using HTML5 allowed Facebook to build a mobile interface that worked on a variety of operating systems and devices, but it meant sacrificing quality in some cases.
Facebook last month released a new app built specifically for Apple’s iOS operating system, which Johnson praised as much faster and more stable than the old one. He noted that the Facebook app has climbed from an average user rating of just two stars in Apple’s app store last month to a four-star rating this week.
Facebook is also working on a “native” app designed specifically for Android devices. But Johnson also said Facebook will continue to develop its mobile web interface on HTML5 for millions of users around the world who are accessing Facebook on a variety of mobile devices that aren’t running Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android mobile operating system.
Facebook’s mobile website, built on HTML5, draws over 300 million users and is “the biggest interface we have,” Johnson said. Other managers noted that it’s not practical for Facebook to build a separate interface for every device and browser used around the world.
Developer products director Doug Purdy, meanwhile, talked about Facebook’s effort to help independent developers create apps that will integrate with Facebook and work equally well on a variety of operating systems.
For example, he said Facebook’s app center lets a user download the game SongPop on his iPhone and then easily invite a friend to download and play the game with him, even if the friend is using an Android phone. “Facebook allows third-party developers and users to not care what device they’re on,” he added.