Reportedly, a Facebook iPad app is now in the works. Sources last week told the New York Times that Facebook will introduce a free iPad app in the coming weeks, after nearly a year in development. The new app will take advantage of touch technology, overhaul Facebook chat and group features, and let users shoot and upload photos and videos straight from the iPad just like the iPhone Facebook app.
Has it really taken a year to develop the iPad app? Chances are Facebook had hoped to avoid building an iPad app out of fear of being beholden to Apple. Facebook probably figured it could continue developing its Web site and let iPad’s Safari render the Facebook service for users.
After all, what can an iPad app really bring to the Facebook party?
For starters, an iPad can make better use of touch technology. Just check out Flipboard on the iPad: The popular app lets users view various feeds, including Facebook, in a magazine-style format that’s easy on the eyes. The ease of flipping virtual pages a la Flipboard gives native iPad apps a big advantage over Web sites.
On the business front, Flipboard presents a big problem for Facebook.
Earlier this year, Flipboard raised $50 million in venture capital funding at a $200 million valuation and is becoming a powerhouse on the iPad platform. Flipboard is the preferred way for many iPad users to digest Facebook status updates. Flipboard also strips out advertising that normally shows up on Facebook’s Web site.
The rise of Flipboard on the iPad no doubt caught Facebook’s attention. If executed right, a Facebook iPad app can take back some of Flipboard’s momentum.
In addition, an official iPad app could staunch concerns over Facebook’s slowing user growth. Facebook’s active user base grew by only 1.7 percent last month, or about half its normal growth rate, according to Slate. Considering iPad sales have exceeded 25 million so far, a Facebook iPad app could invigorate a good chunk of the Facebook user base.
Of course, Apple has much to gain from a Facebook iPad app, too. In the brave new world of tablets, analysts agree software plays a more prominent role than hardware. So if the iPad gains an exclusive on the official Facebook app, even for a little while, such an advantage can sway tablet buyers sitting on the iPad-Android fence.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.