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RIM *almost* gets it right with its Facebook app for Blackberries... (but it's missing a good bit)

When I first heard from Jim Courtney and then Alec Saunders that RIM had released an official Blackberry application that let you use Facebook, I naturally went to look at the information and then downloaded the app (which you do on the Blackberry itself after you go to m.facebook.com).

I was initially extremely excited... and then almost immediately incredibly disappointed...

First, I have to say that I applaud RIM for putting this application out. I think this can be a great tool for those of us who use Facebook. I realize this is its initial deployment, so hopefully feedback like this can help the folks at RIM improve the app so that it is truly useful to us.

Before I get to the main screen, let me address the major source of my disappointment. After you have installed the app, you start getting notifications such as friend requests. Here's the problem:

You MUST act on the friend request (Confirm or Ignore) before you can access the rest of the app!

So when I just wanted to zip into the app to change a status message, I was suddenly confronted by the fact that I had to act on a friend request (click image for larger view):

Now I don't know who Paul Sorge is and I don't typically just confirm a friend request if the name isn't immediately familiar to me. However, there is not a choice offered to defer the action until later. I assumed that I could just hit the "Cancel"/"Escape" key and it would take me back to the main Facebook app menu. It didn't... it took me out of the app entirely back to whatever I was in before. When I went back into the FB app, I was back at this Confirm/Ignore screen. Here are my choices (apologies on the image quality... it turns out to be harder than I expected to take close images with the MacBookPro camera):
So I can poke Paul... write on his wall, send him a message, view his profile or confirm/ignore him. I did go look at his profile which strangely didn't show much at all.... and then I just didn't have time to do more. I wanted to use the app - so I just hit "Ignore" and the screen went away. (Sorry, Paul... if we do know each other and I'm just having a mind blank I will be glad to add you.)

This is to me a fundamental flaw. It assumes that people will act on a friend request immediately, before doing anything else in Facebook. I don't know about you all, but I often don't have time to look at friend requests and so if I don't immediately know the person I let some linger until I have some cycles to investigate further. With the regular Facebook interface (either the main one or the m.facebook.com mobile interface), I can let friend requests just sit there until I have the cycles to deal with them. It would be great if the RIM app had some way to cancel out of the friend request and let you just see the main app.

[UPDATE: Some time later I had the main Facebook app screen open and received another friend request. It showed up in the app main screen as one of the new items, so it did NOT lock me into acting on it. However, the moment I entered the friend request I seemed to be locked in again, which surprises me.]

Okay, so once you've confirmed/ignored all queued friend requests, here is the main screen you see:
Going left to right, here are what the icons across the top do:

  • View Status Updates - This screen is genuinely very useful. You see your recent status update, can enter a new one and can also see all your friends' recent status updates.
  • Upload a Photo - Utterly useless for me. I have a BB 8830 because Verizon (my only choice for a carrier) does not support any of the 83xx series that have cameras. So I can't really see any value here.
  • View Friend List - Useful. Shows you a text list of all your friends along with their status msgs. If you click on a friend you see their profile.
  • Invite a Friend - Useless to have on a small screen. How often do any of you actually invite someone new to Facebook? In all the time since I started using Facebook in the Spring I've invited maybe 2 or 3 people because they asked about it. Why take up real estate with this?
  • Poke Someone - Utterly useless to me. I personally don't like Poke and see little point in it. If I want to say hi to someone, I'll send them a message saying Hi! (Call me old-fashioned, I guess...)
  • Write on a Wall - Very occasionally useful. I guess I'm just not a huge fan of writing on walls.
  • Send a Message - Useful way to quickly send messages. Start typing a friend's name and you'll see potential matches.

That's it. Those are all the features of the application. You can use the icons, the menu, or keyboard shortcuts... but those are the things you can do. However, let's take a look at what is missing:

  • Inbox - This is a rather stunning omission to me. You have no access to your Facebook Inbox! Huh? Given that messages form a significant part of Facebook communication (or seem to at least for me), it seems odd that you can't access your message inbox. Now, you do see messages that have arrived since the time you started using the app (although I haven't tested what happens if I receive a FB msg while the BB app is not running), but there seems to be no way I could figure out to see the messages that are already in there.
  • Your own Profile - It seems odd to me that there is no menu command or other way to easily view your own profile. You can see your profile, but it involves going into View Friend List, going to your name and then doing the menu choice to view the full profile. A number of steps to go through. Given that you might want to see your own wall (if you like writing on walls) or other items you have put on your profile, this seems a strange omission.
  • NewsFeed - No access to your news feed of changes within your circle of friends.
  • Groups - No way to get to your groups.
  • Events - No way to get to events - given that your likely to be using your Blackberry on the road when you might be going to an event, this would be quite useful to have.

Now, granted, this BB app is just RIM's first version of the app, so on one level perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on them. However, there's this one minor detail:

All this functionality is AVAILABLE NOW through m.facebook.com!

Given that m.facebook.com works well on the Blackberry already, the bar has been set for RIM with their app... and for me this first version fell short.

In fairness to RIM, they seem to have recognized that they don't have all the functionality yet and so they have a "Go to Mobile Site" option in their app menu that takes you over to m.facebook.com. However, it begs the question... if I need to go to the m.facebook.com site to have much of my Facebook interaction, why should I use the RIM app for Facebook?

So kudos to RIM for coming out with an app that shows the promise of making Facebook more useful on the Blackberry... hopefully we'll see more improvements over time that make it truly useful.

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