A Great Facebook App: The Impossible Dream?

Native Mac clients for social networks are a massive market – Twitter is the obvious example here, with a vast number of awesome apps. Even Instagram has a few nice solutions. But what about the biggest social network out there, Facebook? It has over 750 million users, and there’s no market leader for native clients.

Today, I’ll be having a look at what options we have if we want a Facebook app, if any of them are any good, and why this market desperately needs a game-changer.

Do We Really Need a Facebook App?

The short answer to this is “Yes. Definitely.” Facebook’s website is certainly usable, but by no means ideal. They regularly change up the interface, and quite often, things just don’t work.

As for Facebook Chat, it’s just horrible. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Facebook Chat seems to have replaced the perfectly good IM services like Skype, AIM and MSN. My biggest gripe with Facebook chat is the lack of notifications. If I’m working in Photoshop, and don’t have the sound on, I have no way of knowing if somebody has contacted me on chat. I may not go back into my browser for half an hour, and by that point, it’s too late and I’m labeled as a social recluse. Imagine a Facebook client that would alert me, via a subtle dock badge, when somebody tried to talk to me. Now that truly would be fantastic.

What’s On the Market Right Now?

There are plenty of Facebook apps in the Mac App Store, many of them falling into just a few categories. I’ll take a look a bunch of those categories, and if there’s any potential in them.

Facebook Chat in-browser

Facebook Chat in-browser

Menu Bar Apps

This section has the largest number of FB apps by far. Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing to tell them apart. I tried out seven or eight of these apps, and they are almost all identical, both in features and in interface. In essence, most of them are little more than a Fluid instance of the Facebook mobile site. Have a look at these screenshots to see what I mean:

Facebook Menu Bar apps

Facebook Menu Bar apps

But even if they do all look the same, that doesn’t mean that they’re bad apps, does it? Of course not, but, as much as I regret to say it, most of them are. This default design is clunky, with a poor hierarchy, making reading posts a very unpleasant experience. I personally don’t see much potential in Facebook menu bar apps, while a minimal feed may work for Twitter, Facebook is too media-heavy and has far too many features to be condensed into such a small window.

If I had to recommend a menu bar app, it would have to be Facebox Pro. The interface is basically the web app with a few elements placed elsewhere, so you have support for almost all features (including chat). It’s not perfect, but if you’re adamant you want a menu bar app, this free app is the one for you.

Facebox Pro

Facebox Pro

Chat Utilities

As I mentioned before, Facebook’s chat feature has a lot of negatives, and this is a huge market which developers really should be capitalizing on. At the time of writing, there seem to be only two apps which are solely dedicated to a better chat experience: Chatlet and FaceChat.

Considering that FB Chat is free, I anticipated there would be at least one free chat app, but that is not the case: both cost $4.99, with FaceChat offering “FaceChat+” for $9.99. I had a look at both of them in the App Store, and decided that Chatlet was the app for me. I subsequently forked out my hard-earned fiver, downloaded the app, and much to my dismay, it wouldn’t open. The same happened with Facelet, the menubar app from the same developer.

Chatlet

Chatlet

While they may be decent apps, the fact that they don’t work at all means I can’t recommend them at all. As for FaceChat, the screenshots in the App Store were enough to turn me off. The interface seems far too clunky when I can get essentially the same thing free in my browser.

It is also worth noting that IM clients such as Adium do have support for FB chat, but since Facebook rolled out its new chat, I have only been able to receive, and not send, messages from within Adium.

As I’ve said before, I’m willing to pay good money for a great chat app. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great chat apps out there. Yet.

Full Facebook Clients

This is the market which I feel developers should have the most luck with. Users don’t want a bunch of different Facebook apps running different parts of the service, they want a single app that will do it all. Looking into our options, there really isn’t much around.

In fact, the only app I could find which was in any way comparable to apps like Twitterific and Twitter for Mac was Clarity, a Facebook client which claims to simplify your news feed. It has support for photo viewing, video watching, friend managing, and, of course, reading and posting updates.

It doesn’t have support for chat, something which will hopefully come soon, and the interface could be cleaned up a lot, but other than that, it’s has pretty much everything you need. Clarity comes in at a perfectly reasonable price of $3.99.

Clarity

Clarity

Conclusion

At the moment, there are no FB apps that have blown me away. They all seem pretty half-baked, and not at all polished. Hopefully, however, this is a growing market, and in the next year we’ll hopefully see something that blows everything else out of the water. Until then, I’d have to recommend that the best app for Facebook is your browser.


  • http://www.mrcorse.net Miguel Machado

    I agree. Usually I use the website to navigate on FB. For chat, I use iChat and it just works. For me the big problem is on the iPad. I already tried some apps, but no one proved to be so complete as the web.

  • http://techrenew.me Alex Arena

    Great post, just a few things:

    1. iChat is by far the best Facebook chat app on the Mac, its easy to set up and it can send and receive messages in a beautiful interface.
    2. Socialite was one glaring omission from the post…its not great by anyone’s standards but it was by worth a mention at least.
    3. I think this post shows how terrible the Facebook app options really are. I’m not a developer but it seems like Facebook has really stifled app potential. From my experience 99% of 3rd party Facebook apps on Mac/iOS/Android are just mobile Facebook with some extra chrome. They need to step their game up.

    • Andrew Ford

      I’m glad someone mentioned Socialite. I use that over the Facebook website. As you say, its not perfect, but it is an improvement. (I also believe the team behind Socialite are working on a version 2.0 App).

      Also, as you said, Facebook chat is available through the likes of Adium or iChat. This works perfectly fine and again, feels as native as using other IM services are. This article fails to mention that – and this option seems to solve many of the problems the author mentions too.

  • pedro

    Adium, adium, adium.

    Perfectly solves facebook chat – ichat is simply a joke as an integrated im client because it doesn’t suport the msn network (all the people I know use msn, never met anyone who used any other network other than facebook/msn).

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Wait… you mean to tell me that MSN chat still exists? ;)

      • Ignaty Nikulin

        Thumbs up, Joshua! Dinosaurs from MSN are still here, with us. :)

  • Chad

    Adium for chat. Fluid for the web page. It keeps FB from interfering with any other browsing that I’m doing and the icon notifies me when I get new notifications. I’ve tried Facebox and somehow it just didn’t work for me.

  • http://www.isoladipasqua.it gianlucasavini

    To chat, both Adium and Trillian (the first is waaay better…) are perfectly capable, with, obviously, notification and everything else.

  • http://joeldrapper.com Joel Drapper

    This is the best I’ve seen for facebook. http://dribbble.com/shots/197265-Facebook-for-Mac

    • Ignaty Nikulin

      Well, this is “the best” in design, again well in small part that we can see, but it’s not meant that it will be good in usability, speed or whatever.

  • Thomas

    You should include Rockmelt. It’s getting pretty good, quick and stable. Also it is in your browser so you don’t need a separate app for fb.

    • http://www.evanhahn.com/ Evan Hahn

      I agree — it’s what I use for Facebook. (Full disclosure: I am an intern at RockMelt.)

  • sang

    there’s also socialbox for facebook chat. it’s free, cross-platform (Adobe Air), and supports video chat with your facebook friends. http://www.socialbox.com

  • Sérgio Miranda

    The problems the author is having with Facebook Chat are probably due to him being unaware that any client capable of using Jabber can connect to Facebook.

    The problems he refers with Adium and Facebook probably happen because he is using the old Facebook plugin (which is kind of a hack and no longer developed) and not a proper Jabber/XMPP account as it should.

  • Chris

    Nice post…. I also tried most of those apps and I agree they are useless. I use trillian for FB chat which also gives you a menubar icon for facebook and a small window with your news feed….. but I still prefer the website :P

  • http://www.bertlempens.com Bert

    Yeah… Rockmelt is awesome for Facebook (chat, sharing, newsfeed, …), Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube… Everything :-).

    Try it!

  • http://www.mybignetwork.uk.com Michelle

    The main problem for me is using facebook on my iPad, I can never chat to my friends :(

  • http://www.aesconnect.com Mark

    I feel like Facebook is purposefully making it difficult to make a non-browser based version that is actually better than their website. No matter what you do, it’s going to be slower than their native web-based experience. And for social networks, speed is the #1 feature.

  • iynque

    I don’t have any problems with the FB website… it -is- the native client. …unless you don’t think a website runs natively. :/

    Besides that, I use Adium on my Mac and Remodium on iOS for FB chat. Chat on the website is pretty ridiculously awful, but on Adium/Remodium I don’t even notice that I’m not necessarily on AIM, which just works all the time. I get to chat with my CONTACTS, not a protocol. Someone can talk to me through Facebook, AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. It all looks and works the same to me. I just see your real name and what you have to say.

  • http://camgould.com Cam Gould

    Great list… but… you forgot the OFFICIAL one created by Facebook 2 years ago!

    I have been using it for almost that long, and I love it. It’s not a mobile version of the site. It is more of a tool for handling notifications, which alerts via growl and through the toolbar icon. You then go to the full site via your default browser to see the full details.

    It’s a very seamless way to integrate Facebook into your desktop.

    Note: development stopped long ago, but the app still works very well.

    Facebook Notifier by Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notifier

    • http://filialdevotion.com alex

      I know this seems like an old response, but it is a bit annoying having to go back and forth between the notification app and the web page.
      If Facebook can develop really crisp, clean applications for iOS and Android, you’d think they’d be able to do the same for Mac and Windows.
      Having a Mac app similar to the current Twitter app would be absolutely incredible, because we all know that the current Twitter app is leagues ahead of Facebook. I just wish Facebook would realise that a very, very large amount of people would download a desktop app.
      It would be interesting statistically then, to see how many people just use the Facebook Messenger rather than actually use the fully featured Facebook application… but I guess we’ll probably never know.

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