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Oh My Tech!: Facebook finally releases a great mobile app

Published February 13, 2014 10:13 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I don't like Facebook. I don't want to catch up with classmates I haven't talked to in 30 years. I don't want to see political diatribes from right-wing nutjobs. And I certainly don't want to see aspirational quotes-of-the-day typed over pictures of fields of roses.

But Facebook did two amazing things in the last couple of weeks: They finally released a new mobile app that is a wondrous piece of programming. And second, the site has been automatically generating poignant videos of each of its members to commemorate its 10th anniversary. Wow, Facebook CAN do something well.

Facebook has never been quite savvy when it comes to programming for mobile devices, which is critical since the Palo Alto, Calif., company's focus in the last few years has been on making a successful transition to mobile.

But their first smartphone app was a disaster. It's clunky and visually unappealing. But it's also the most-used app on any mobile phone, according to some studies. So while it's a horrendous tool, people use it at least several times a day.

Then came Facebook Home, another mobile app for Android-based phones that was a failure of epic proportions. Less than an app and more of a wrapper for the whole interface of your phone, it literally took over the main graphical user interface of your device and made Facebook the center of all your features and operations. The biggest problem with Home was that it was a computing hog, and it took so much of your processing power, it would reportedly slow down your phone. Needless to say, not very many people liked it or used it.

But Facebook is making amends for all past sins. A couple of weeks ago, it introduced a new free app only for iOS devices called "Paper." It's less of a pure Facebook app and more of a cross between Facebook and news magazine aggregators like Flipboard or Zite. It's a stunning and intuitive piece of software that ties into your Facebook account but also gives you news from categories of your own choosing.

When you launch Paper, the screen is divided between photos on the top half and horizontally scrolling posts on the bottom.

If you swipe left or right on the top half, you will scroll through your news topics. The first default screen is always your Facebook news feed. But as you scroll to the right, you go to other news topics curated by Facebook, such as the day's main headlines, tech news, food, sports, business, etc.

Pick a topic, and posts from that category scroll left or right on the bottom half. If you press on a post, it blows up to fullscreen and you can press again to go to the full article. To go back to the original layout, just keep swiping down.

Photos also are beautifully displayed. If a large photo appears on the screen, you can tilt the phone left or right to pan across it. Of course, you still have icons in the top right-hand corner for your notifications, personal messages and connections to other Facebook friends.

"Elegant" is the last word I thought I would use in association with anything Facebook would make, but that's how I would best describe "Paper." It's easy to use with a helpful voiceover tutorial, and it employs a gorgeous layout. For now, it's only available for iOS devices (no word on Android devices), so if you have an iPhone, do check it out.

Look back • Have you checked your Facebook page in the last week and noticed a video about your life? It's a new automated video that Facebook has made for hundreds of millions of its users to celebrate its 10th anniversary. It randomly takes photos you've posted and compiles them into a nice 62-second "Look Back" video of your life on Facebook, first stating when you joined (as if that's really a milestone in your life) and then showing photos and random postings. It's all done to a sweet piece of instrumental music.

You can then share your video with others, and you can edit out photos from the video (though I couldn't see where you can add in other photos). To see yours, go to www.facebook/lookback. Your video will only be available for a month unless you decide to share it online.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.






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