With more than three million active users and chart-topping status on the iTunes App Store, Friendly for Facebook – which launched last June – is “the unofficial Facebook iPad app.”
In this week’s Meet the Makers, we get to know Cyril Moutran, co-founder of Friendly for Facebook developer Oecoway. Moutran shares why he originally developed the app for his own interest in having a better way to access Facebook on a tablet. He also discusses his relationship with Facebook, how to develop an app that doesn’t replicate the web-based experience, and why it pays to have your app completely ready before submitting it to the App Store.
Appolicious: Many app enthusiasts were shocked when Facebook didn’t develop an app for the iPad. As the developer of “the unofficial Facebook iPad app,” do you have any insight or theory as to why Facebook didn’t make its own tablet app?
Cyril Moutran: I think Facebook is still working on a comprehensive tablet strategy, and it will take time. But they have time, because they have platform apps from early movers like us that are filling the gap, and that they can learn from. I do not have insights on Facebook plans, but it is likely that Facebook will eventually offer a native alternative to their website.
CM: The process was simple: I stood in line to get the first iPad, and fell in love with the tablet. With my family being from France, I use Facebook a lot to keep in touch with relatives and friends. The first version of Friendly for Facebook was really the app I personally wanted for my iPad. Then we quickly established a Facebook support page, and started getting feedback from over 100,000 users. We try to come up with updates every 3-4 weeks, incorporating the most requested features.
Appo: What advantages do you have working within the iPad platform? What are your biggest restrictions?
CM: One of the biggest advantages to work within the iPad platform, is the App Store. If you build something new, and something people need, the App Store is a great way to get your products to market. Of course, the other advantage of the iPad is that it is a new platform. Having such a big touch screen creates opportunities to design products that have never been done before.
One of the biggest restrictions is that it takes more than a week to get product updates through the Apple approval process. In a previous project Oecoway did on the web, we would be able to make changes every day and test new ideas. But when you develop applications on iOS, you have to trade away some of that agility.
CM: With Friendly for Facebook, we are focusing on how we can enhance the experience for touch tablets, especially with features you cannot do through just the iPhone version or website version on Safari. A good example of this is the ability to upload photos, edit or apply effects to photos, browse photo albums in full screen, support for multi-accounts (e.g.: friends/family can easily switch between Facebook accounts on the same iPad), a full-screen Facebook chat experience, and the ability to customize fonts and colors.
Appo: Did Facebook have any informal input or standards they shared while you were developing the app?
CM: We interact mostly with the team supporting the Facebook Platform Developer program. They are quick to respond to technical issues, and provide development guidance. Nothing really specific to Friendly for Facebook, the Facebook Platform team supports thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other Facebook applications.
Appo: With over 3 million downloads, Friendly for Facebook is far and away the most popular Facebook client for the iPad. How did you initially get distribution and can you share any tips with fellow developers about how to maximize app discoverability?
CM: When we launched Friendly for Facebook in June of last year, there were not as many applications in the App Store as there are now, so discoverability was a bit easier. The key in the App Store now is to create a product that is unique and responds to an unfulfilled need. When you launch a new product, the app may get featured for a few days in the “Bew & Boteworthy” section. That is your chance to connect with the early adopters, so you need to make sure the product is ready when you do launch.
Appo: What other apps has Oecoway developed?
CM: Currently 100 percent of our focus is on Friendly for Facebook.
Appo: Are there any plans to bring Friendly to Facebook to Android Honeycomb or other tablet devices?
CM: Yes, we are looking at bringing the popular Friendly for Facebook app to Android tablets later this year.