Is Facebook Taking Inspiration From Apple’s App Store?

January 31, 2010 in Essays, Technology & Science

In the coming weeks Facebook will be launching a new “Dashboard” screen for their Applications. At first glance it has many similarities to the iTunes app store, but looking a bit deeper there also seems to be quite a few lessons that Apple could learn from Facebook’s plans:

The Dashboard

As you can see from the screenshot (click for full size) the new dashboard will have a much better layout than the existing list format. Links to the dashboard will sit on the left side of your home page and when clicked will replace your news feed with the new dashboard – like switching between live feed and news feed.

Facebook hope to encourage “discovery and re-engagement with games and other applications” and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

With a little luck it might also help clear up the news feed which can often become clogged with torrents of game notifications.

Applications vs. Games

This is one area in which Facebook seem to be leapfrogging Apple. The iTunes App Store has Games as just another category of apps (the most heavily promoted category) but Facebook is going one step further and dividing it’s applications directory in half, with users now having an Applications Dashboard and a Games Dashboard.

This is a great move by Facebook. Although there’s no technical difference between the two (a Game is just another type of app) from the average user’s point of view the distinction is useful. It also allows the Games Dashboard to include more game-specific features such as high scores and leader boards.

Integrating Social

This is where Facebook’s new dashboards should move into a league of their own. For the initial launch the social integration isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but it’s still a great demonstration of how any simple service can be greatly enhanced by integrating a social web. Here’s Facebook’s list of features they expect in the new dashboards from day 1:

  • Recently used applications and games
  • News items: Examples given by Facebook include “It’s your turn in a game against Jared” or “The leader board was reset 6 hours ago, come play!”
  • Your Friends’ Recent Activity
  • Your Friends Play
  • Directory, Including an “Applications You May Like” section
  • Suggestions/Sponsored on the right hand side, based on a combination of paid placement and the applications they and their friends are using.
  • Counters and home page placement: Bookmarked applications will also have prominence on the home page, and can be accompanied by Counters that you can set to let users know there are actions for them to take within your applications.

It’s A Numbers Game

The motivations behind this move are pretty obvious once you understand the numbers behind app usage. Apple should have an advantage in this area because applications sit on the home screen of iPhones and are harder to ignore, yet some figures show that as little as 20% of all iPhone applications are ever used more than once. Data for Facebook apps appears to be quite similar, with the Top 100 apps having only 10%-20% of users being “active” in any given month.

Try Them Out

Before the official launch you can test them out to see what your dashboards will look like using these demo links:

What do you think? Will this help you get the most out of Facebook Applications or is just more intrusions into your home page? Will it make Facebook games an even more lucrative industry?

Apple’s Big “Let’s Rock” Announcement

September 9, 2008 in Technology & Science

Here’s the main info from the press conference that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) held today (info from the live updates here here here and here). This is a summary of the main announcements with my thoughts on a few.

Itunes 8 is being launched. This new version comes with a few new features:
Browse the store in cover flow – You’ll be able to browse the Itunes store in coverflow look, i.e. browse music by album cover, just like being down in HMV flicking through the records on the shelves!
HD TV shows. You can buy them for $1.99 in SD, HD will be $2.99
NBC is coming back, with all it’s best shows (the office, 30 rock etc), but that doesn’t really matter to us in Ireland!

An interesting concept that has been done before quite successfully by websites such as last fm. What it does is us a social algorithm for recommendations. What this means is that iTunes collects data (anonymously) from all it’s users and pools it together on their servers (in the cloud). They can then gain insights into different music tastes and patterns. For example, they can see that most people who like to listen to Green Day, also like to listen to U2. This allows them to do some pretty neat things:
Generate smart playlists based on “songs that go together”. So if I have a playlist with a few Jack Johnson songs, and I hit the Genius button, iTunes would automatically fill it out some Damien Rice, Fionn Regan etc., because it “knows” that they go well together. This could be great for iTunes picking up on the mood i’m in. So i pick a certain song or artist off the top of my head because that’s the kind of music I want to listen to now, and iTunes keeps playing more like it.
The use demoed was for finding music in the iTunes store to go with a song you have. Nothing new or groundbreaking here., pandora, imeem and many others have been doing this for years, but I guess not on the scale of iTunes. This may give them better accuracy if they have a larger pool of data to draw insights from. This was predicted/the case was made for it in a great readwriteweb post a few weeks back. Well worth a read and very applicable to today’s events.

A new iPod nano was announced. Looks very nice – a very thin, curved look. You can use Genius on it too (and all the other ipods) to create a clever recommended playlist “on the go”.
It has an accelerometer like the touch and iphone, with the cooles feature being “Shake to shuffle.” Everything else is pretty standard; some slick new colours, 8GB and 16GB models, environmentally friendly – “highly recyclable.”

An updated ipod touch with some welcome new features. Volume control (+/-) on the side like most modern phones. Built in speakers – great for parties! Genius playlist creation just like the nano. Built in support for nike+ – I don’t ever see myself using this, but it got a pretty good reception from the crowd and media in general. €369.99 for a 32GB Touch, not bad at all.

This was one of the first things that I thought when I got my iPod Touch and played a few of the games in the app store, that it has the potential to be a neat little gaming device. Steve Jobs seems to have some pretty big hopes for it, saying “It’s the best portable device for playing games…” Wow, I guess Nintendo better be ready for the next round. It beat off Gamegear, PSP and now this. Although I have to admit, I do enjoy playing the odd game on my iPod touch, it combines the brilliance of the DS touch and the wii motion sensing that immerses you in a game. And it has that added advantage of always being in my pocket, unlike my DS.
At the conference they demoed a football game and spore. I’ll let this pic do the talking, looks pretty sweet, and is a great example of how the touch screen lends itself so well to gaming, as the DS has clearly shown:

That’s about it for today. If you’d like to keep up to date with all the newest commentary and reviews like this, you can subscribe to this blog so you don’t have to keep coming back to check for updates!