Facebook Gives iOS a Homey Touch
Chat Heads and Stickers aren't just for Android phones anymore. Those features of Facebook's new Home family of networking apps are now available for iPhones and iPads, thanks to an iOS update released by the social network. However, those are just about the only Home features to make it to Apple, which may be signaling that it knows it has to keep its signature smartphone relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Facebook on Tuesday released an update to its Apple iOS app that includes just a few of the features in its Home suite of mobile social networking apps recently unveiled for Android users.
iOS users can now refresh their Facebook app to include Chat Heads, the network's new messaging feature that makes short texts more personal by planting a tiny bubble with the picture of the person who is messaging next to the text. The image pops up on a smartphone or tablet screen when someone receives a message.
The update will also bring what Facebook calls "Stickers," or cartoon emoticons, to its iOS app. iPad users will also notice a change in their NewsFeed layout, which Facebook said was designed to make the page less cluttered. The change allows users better options for choosing what they want to see on their feeds.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Bringing Home to Other Platforms
The ability to put even a few of its new Facebook Home features into Apple's mobile operating system is a win for the social giant, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. That's especially true because the mobile software is still new and subject to tweaking.
"Clearly iOS is one of the major platforms, so it's incredibly important for Facebook to get on there, but Facebook Home clearly needs some more work," he told MacNewsWorld. "It's so much of the Facebook experience, and it needs to embrace some other part of the phone and its services. The number of people that can actually live on Facebook and in that service is getting pretty small these days."
Given that, it's surprising that Apple let the social network infiltrate iOS as much as it did with the Facebook Home updates, Enderle added.
"Apple has got some pretty strict restrictions about taking away from the user experience," he noted. "It seems unlikely that they're going to let Facebook do what it needs to do to develop this. Jobs would have had a cow with them even doing this much."
Even if Apple doesn't let Facebook develop its new Home features any further in iOS, it is an indication that Apple's short-term mindset is to create some buzz around its devices.
"This is a case where Apple is getting a little desperate," Enderle said. "Their numbers are off, and they're trying to get their phones to look trendier. But I don't think it's going to let Facebook do what it needs to do and run off with control."
Next iPhone Generation on the Way?
It's unknown exactly when Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone, but according to some reports the newest addition could be on its way sooner rather than later.
Foxconn recently ramped up hiring, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal,. That could indicate the factory is gearing up for a launch.
Just because the supply chain might be getting into motion doesn't mean Apple's newest iPhone is right around the corner, said Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOm Pro. However, it could mean that the company understands the marketplace is getting more crowded, and a launch slightly ahead of its typical annual release cycle might help Apple.
"The smartphone wars are escalating once again, with new high-end models from Samsung and HTC coming to market, so if there are no hiccups in the supply chain I think we could see a new iPhone in July or August," he told MacNewsWorld.
In addition to a new iPhone model, reports from several analysts -- most recently Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster -- have suggested that the company will indeed launch a low-cost smartphone that could help it capture a larger chunk of the overall marketplace.
Munster said Apple will release a US$300 non-subsidized model targeted toward emerging markets. A phone possibly made of plastic instead of glass, and missing standard display specs, would likely be a hit in several countries overseas, Gibbs said, even if it doesn't debut in more premium markets.
"I think there's a good chance Apple finally comes to market with a more affordable iPhone this year, too," he added. "We'll continue to see explosive growth in emerging markets like China and India, and without a cheaper iPhone Apple can't fully compete in those regions."