Mobility

Mark Zuckerberg said yesterday, in Facebook’s mobile announcement, that the iPad is not mobile. For some reason this has been controversial, but I think he’s right in principle. Clearly semantically he’s incorrect, but then a desktop computer is mobile too because I can pick it up and carry it, so the semantic argument is useless in the context of mobile app development.

The real question is how do people use their iPad, and it’s important to keep this in mind when developing for it. You don’t develop the same things for a device that is used largely in the living room that you do for a device that people carry with them 24/7. Of course there’s a lot of crossover, just as people use Facebook both on their home PC and their cell phone, but there are differences too.

It’s a mistake to think of the iPad as just a larger iPhone, it’s not. For one, it is substantially less mobile. You don’t carry it with you everywhere you go. You won’t use it, for instance, to occupy time spent riding in a cab, in the line at the supermarket, on the john at work, etc. Since iPad sales are largely at the low-end, Wi-Fi only model, it probably spends a relatively decent amount of time offline entirely, whereas an iPhone rarely is.

And all this isn’t to say, of course, that people won’t use Facebook on the iPad. They’ll use Facebook on their napkins if someone makes one with a Wi-Fi connection. But he’s right that tablets have to be treated much differently than phones. What people will do on Facebook on the iPad will substantially differ from what people will do on their mobile.

If I had to guess, I’d say the mobile experience will lean heavily toward pictures, status updates, and things you do on the go. It will be more about content creation. The iPad, on the other hand, is a content consumption machine. It will be more about browsing profiles, looking at others’ pictures, etc.

It’s not a mistake for Facebook to attack tablets differently than mobile devices, even if tablets are technically mobile.

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