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Facebook ditches mobile HTML with native Android app

New version 'twice as fast' as lousy old one

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Updated Four months after Facebook infamously switched its iOS mobile app from an HTML-based app to a native one, the social network has followed suit with a native app for Android, completing its transition away from web-based mobile development.

"Facebook for Android 2.0 is twice as fast when looking at photos and opening your Timeline and noticeably quicker to launch," the company said in a press release on Thursday.

Those statements echo Facebook's description of its reworked iOS app, released in August, which was also billed as "twice as fast" as the previous version.

In an interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg attributed the company's mobile app performance gains to its move away from web technologies.

"When I'm introspective about the last few years, I think the biggest mistake that we made as a company is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native. Because it just wasn't there," the hoodie-clad exec said.

Zuck's comments riled developers across the web, many of whom leapt to the defense of HTML5 and so-called hybrid mobile apps. Perhaps the problem wasn't web technologies, they said, but Facebook's ability to execute using them – a point conceded by at least one Facebook engineering manager.

"Right now Facebook moves fastest by writing native code," that unnamed manager told Reg contributor Matt Asay. "Eventually if HTML5 lets us move faster you could expect to see us move back to it. We are going to use whatever tech stack lets us do high-quality work at a fast pace."

Regardless of whether technology or Facebook's engineering team is to blame, however, it seems clear that the social network's Android app has been in sore need of an overhaul.

Users have been deeply divided over the current version. As of Thursday afternoon, it had earned 2,614,433 five-star ratings on the Google Play store, but 1,102,696 users had given it just one star.

Among the one-star ratings posted in recent days, user comments include, "Takes forever to load," "This app is the slowest and worst app in the play store," and "If I could give negative stars I would."

Comments like those have troubled Facebook shareholders, who worry that Zuck & Co. have been too slow to develop a strong mobile strategy. In a study released by mobile developer tools company Appcelerator on Thursday, 66 per cent of developers surveyed thought it was "likely to very likely" that a mobile-first social startup could disrupt Facebook's dominance in the space.

Little wonder that Zuckerberg spent much of Facebook's most recent financial earnings call talking up the company's mobile plans. "I want to dispel this myth that Facebook can't make money on mobile," he said. "This may have seemed true earlier this year because we hadn't started trying yet."

The release of a native app for Android seems to indicate the company is now trying, at least a little bit. Company reps say the updated app, version 2.0, will be available from the Google Play store beginning late Thursday. ®

Update

For more technically-minded readers, Facebook engineer Frank Qixing Du has posted a detailed description of how the company optimized its new, all-native app for better performance on Android.

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