First Impressions of Facebook’s Not-So-Secret iPad App

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Remember Zuck’s “awesome” announcement that had lots of us expecting Facebook to announce their official iPad app? If you don’t, that’s okay: The Skype integration was seen by lots of people as decidedly ho-hum.

In case you haven’t heard yet (with a hat tip to MG Siegler at TechCrunch), the sleek new iPad app was found in a line of code in the Facebook iPhone app earlier today. It’s not official-official yet, and Facebook could very well make changes between now and the product’s official release, but it’s definitely accessible if you’re comfortable navigating iffy jailbreak territory.

Twitter user @aeroechelon, an engineering student, was first to spot the hiccup (so major kudos to him), and since then it’s caused something of a frenzy in the tech ecosystem.

After spending a bit of time with the iPad app this morning, I’ll say this: It’s a rather lovely browsing experience. Here’s a quick rundown.

(PHOTOS: Life Inside Facebook Headquarters)

The Good
This isn’t a simple rehashing of the iPhone’s icon-driven interface. Far from it. The Facebook homescreen takes advantage of the iPad’s screen real estate and adds a new left-sided navigation column that can be tucked away. Your News Feed, Messages, Events, Places, Friends list, Photos and groups are all present and neatly arranged. When you swipe right, the navigation column disappears and Facebook’s new chat feature appears on the right-hand side. Your screen is never overcrowded as you’ll only have two columns accessible at any given time.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about social feeds and the amount of distracting noise a user comes across when using them. Digg’s Kevin Rose and tech blog guru Robert Scoble have had a lengthy public discourse over what service weeds out noise best. The new Facebook app tackles the noise problem with a very usable Feed Filter button in the upper right hand corner. You can navigate between Top News, Most Recent, your Limited Profile, Photos (what the iPad is really best at) and other filters you can set up yourself. It’s definitely acknowledging the critique that Google+ seemed to curb, in that using Facebook’s sorting feature was too difficult, or not apparent enough. Here, the feature’s self-evident.

Browsing photos on the Facebook iPad app is a fantastic experience — much better than the web version with its tacky black theater view. It’s twitch-fast and ultra responsive; sliding through fully blown-up photos isn’t awkward at all. Then, cropping photos to use as your profile picture uses the iPad as it was intended, letting you use two fingers to define the parameters of the crop. It has a nice Minority Report feelin’ to it.

The same goes for the improved Friends Page, which utilizes large, square-shaped thumbnails to navigate your friends list (with a small alphabet-driven menu compressed against the right). It seems like their answer to Circles (which is why I think they should call this new feature “Squares”).

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The Bad
It’s not fair to go too extensively into what’s wrong with the app, since we’re talking about something that’s completely unofficial, but here are a few of the more glaring issues at least worth pointing out.

Commenting, for instance, opens up in the right-handed column so you can interact with whole threads at a time. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t take into account the amount of real estate actually given: You have to annoyingly swipe the column left and right to leave comments that are too long (see picture below).

Photo untagging also doesn’t seem to work (although actually tagging a photo does), which is sure to cause some antsiness if you’re away from your desktop and happen to come across a photo of yourself doing kegstands in lingerie (not me, but just saying).

Like the iOS version of Google+, your basic profile info can’t be edited through the app. Nothing too major, but it might peeve some of the more obsessive profile tinkerers out there.

Most of these gripes are minor, and most of them can be rectified via the web version through Safari. But the whole point of an app is to NOT HAVE TO USE the web version. We’ll see if these nuggets gets fixed by the time the official version rolls out.

(MORE: Hands On With the Google+ iPhone App: Sleek and Buggy (As it Should Be))

…it’s nice. And a monumental, golf clap-worthy improvement over the iPhone version. But as of now the app seems primed for pretty much one thing: browsing. Aside from creating an album or leaving a comment, you can’t even do simple things like create an Event Invite. The app is 100 times more in the “browsing” column than “creation tool.” Just like the iPad, then.

Still, it does browsing very well, and seems poised to take the mantle from the web version on the tablet. It’ll be interesting to see if Facebook speeds up shipping the official app, or if they’ll spend more time tweaking it.

UPDATE: It appears that Facebook isn’t letting users access their account through the iPad version anymore. Or at least I can’t. Anyone seeing something similar?

UPDATE 2: Yep. Looks like they blocked it.

Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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