Facebook’s latest mobile endeavor hit the App Store on Monday—a news reader called Paper (not to be confused with the drawing application Paper)—but the appeal of the application isn’t the way you can consume news, but the way it looks. And as an expanded, glorified News Feed, it's quite a looker.
When you first log in, you’re given the opportunity to select which topics you want Paper to show you—I selected “Headlines” and “Flavor,” which is the section designated for all things culinary. Once you've chosen a handful of topics, you’re first taken to the Facebook news feed where you can scroll through your various status updates from friends and pages you like by swiping right and left. You can also view all your notifications, messages and Facebook friend requests directly in the Paper app.
I compared Paper to my Facebook News Feed on the desktop, and it was surprisingly similar. The difference? I didn’t see any advertisements on Paper.
One feature Facebook is highlighting with Paper is the ability to tilt your phone to view high definition photos. It's an interesting use of the smartphone's accelerometer and gyroscope, but the feature, in practice, is rather annoying. Instead of showing me a friend’s new horizontal profile picture in its entirety, photos on Paper immediately zoom in to fill up the screen and you need to rotate your wrist to view the full photo; one tap of the image, however, shrinks it down to normal size.
You also swipe right and left on the home screen's upper carousel to navigate between your Facebook News Feed and the handful of topics you selected earlier. When you select a story to read—for instance, an article by the New York Times—you simply swipe down and the article opens in an in-app browser; the story appears in full, and you can even navigate to other stories on the site.
The gestures are fairly intuitive, though they do take a little getting used to.
As for the design, images are given much more emphasis than those featured on Facebook's dedicated mobile app, but the text, especially in the "updates" in the lower carousel, can be extremely small difficult to read. The app was also very slow on my iPhone 4S, and my colleague reported similar lag issues on his 5S.
Break Up With Your Old Facebook App
Facebook wants to provide users with a handful of Facebook apps that serve different purposes. Instagram and Camera are Facebook’s photo apps; Messenger gives users a better messaging experience on mobile; and Paper aims to become your ultimate news feed, personalizing updates from friends, companies and news organizations alike.
While fragmenting its services makes sense—the Facebook application with everything built-in could be considered cumbersome to some users—the question remains: Do we really need another news reader?
It appears Facebook's Paper isn’t ready to unseat any of the incumbents yet. The news I scrolled through on Paper's initial launch was hours, if not days, old. And it wasn’t an experience I couldn’t find anywhere else.
As far as news readers go, Paper leaves much to be desired.
As an optimized Facebook News Feed, showcasing photos could be handled a bit better. And as a news reader app, the carousel is an interesting design choice but the small text makes it difficult to skim at a glance. If anything, Facebook Paper puts a new skin on the Facebook timeline, a fresh look that will make me use it instead of the old-hat Facebook application to look at my friends’ baby pictures and engagement announcements.
Paper is available for download today on the App Store. Let us know what you think of it in the comments.
Images via Facebook