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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.