Did Facebook just show you how to do rapid prototyping in mobile?

Facebook finally did something yesterday for their mobile strategy that, on first blush, the world seems to love. They updated their mobile apps with a fresh batch of faster, native ones and the response has been immediate with some of the highest praise the company has received.

The key difference here is that they went native. They stepped away from HTML5 and built platform-focused native applications in order to really take advantage of the device and OS capabilities. If you haven’t upgraded to the latest versions, do so and you will see the difference. Pretty incredible.

What is the business lesson that was learned here? This isn’t the end of HTML5 – nor is it a hit against the use of the cross-platform markup language. It just might not be ready for an app the size of Facebook right now – especially with the amount of pressure they are under to turn mobile into revenue (which I think was THE biggest reason they moved native – more on that in another email).

So what lessons can you learn from this to take to your own company?

What Facebook just did was rapid prototyping and you can do the same thing with HTML5 as you figure out your mobile strategy. First off, HTML5 is as cross-platform as you will get in the mobile world – build once, deploy (mostly) everywhere a smartphone goes. This satisfies the need to build Android, iOS, Windows and BlackBerry versions of your mobile app – you might even get lucky and get the desktop browser version as well. This is important for 2 reasons: 1- Your users are on all platforms right now (and will be on more as they come out – think Bada and Symbian in Europe). 2 – You never know where your future growth will come from so you need an affordable way to test across all platforms without committing to deep, long and expensive development cycles.

For your business, don’t wait to get into the mobile game. Start the same way Facebook did. Build in HTML5 across all platforms, gather usage metrics (i.e. OS type, most popular content, visitor flow, commerce triggers, etc.) and build native when and where you need to. You may not be able to do everything you want in the first version but that’s ok. Understanding how your users interact with your app should be the first thing you do before committing a huge budget to build out an app that misses it’s point.

What Facebook did up to this point may have seemed a frustrating hot mess of mobile ineptness but use their simple test and release process to make sure you are giving your users the right experience – the one they want.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I’m Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I’ve spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I’ve helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • That’s not quite the whole story though, they’ve also made optimizations to the client that would have benefitted the HTML5 version as well. For example, they now cache and display an old news feed which they didn’t do before, making startup times feel much faster while they fetch new content in the background.

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