Refreshed Facebook for BlackBerry Improves Integration with Native Contacts App

Blackberry has released a “refresh” of its Facebook for BlackBerry v2.0 beta app that improves the app’s integration with Blackberry’s native contacts, phone, and SMS apps; adds some new feature to chat and profiles; and makes it compatible with the outdated BlackBerry Device Software v5.0.

These enhancements underscore Facebook’s increasing role as an aggregator of contact information that augments one’s own phonebook.

The refreshed beta app is now available to registered BlackBerry Beta Zone users, and the new features will likely appear in the official version of the app when it’s released. The initial beta release of v2.0 added Chat. BlackBerry also just released a native Facebook app for its PlayBook tablet device. While it included an innovative dual-panel Chat interface, it lacked crucial mobile features such as Events and Places making it better as an alternative Facebook interface for use at home than a true mobile app.

Facebook for BlackBerry v2.0 can now click on BlackBerry PINs, phone numbers and email addresses they see on Facebook wall posts or profiles to open a menu of options for using that contact information with the device’s native apps. Users can add data to their contacts, call or SMS phone numbers, send an email to clicked address, or send a BlackBerry Message to a PIN. The interface works better than that of Facebook for iPhone, which automatically takes the corresponding action when contact info is clicked, rather than giving the option to save the information for later.

Facebook asks users to connect a mobile number to their account for security purposes, leading them to also display their numbers in their profiles, making Facebook a more and more reliable way to find the phone numbers of associates. This can be especially useful in emergency situations, and these new BlackBerry features facilitate this utility.

The app has also improved the Chat experience by letting users see if their conversation partner is currently typing — another feature lacking from Facebook for iPhone and some other native apps. Users can also search their friend lists to find chat partners quickly. In terms of performance, BlackBerry reports that it has improved Chat connection, shortened online contacts list loading time, and made Chat message delivery notifications more consistent.

Other minor improvements include the ability to see a friend’s friend list and your mutual friends, and easier navigation of the news feed thanks to a persistently visible cursor. Compatibility with the old BlackBerry Device Software v5.0 that was released in late 2009 means those with older devices can use the latest Facebook features.

It’s impressive to see BlackBerry one-upping in some way the Facebook for iPhone app.  While it still lacks some major features present on the iOS app including Groups, the company’s mobile development team appears to be focusing on deepening the Facebook integration with BlackBerry’s core value proposition — contact organization.

Facebook for Blackberry PlayBook Includes Core Features but Lags Far Behind iOS and Android

Yesterday, Blackberry announced the launch of a native Facebook app for its new tablet device the PlayBook. It will include the ability to browse the news feed, upload and browse photos, send Messages, and most innovatively, Chat with multiple friends simultaneously via two-panel interface and be notified of new instant messages. Unfortunately, the app lacks a core mobile feature — Events — as well as new Facebook features such as Groups and Places.

Facebook for Blackberry PlayBook lags far behind native apps for iOS, Android, and even the standard Facebook for Blackberry, but at least the tablet has an official native Facebook app, unlike Apple’s iPad.

Facebook said last year that it is seeking to maintain feature parity between the native iOS and Android apps, with both receiving new features within a few weeks of their launch on the web version of Facebook. Meanwhile, Blackberry, Palm webOS and Windows are much farther behind, with none of them supporting Facebook Groups which launched October.

The PlayBook tablet’s large screensize makes it useful for browsing media through the news feed. If users click on a video or website link, the content will be loaded in the PlayBook web browser. Users can upload and browse photos in tablet-optimized albums, and also tag friends in photos — one feature lacking in Facebook for Android. However, part of the draw back of an experience designed for a wide screen is that Facebook for Blackberry PlayBook can’t be used in portrait mode.

Facebook’s native smartphone apps only allow users to view one Chat conversation at a time, requiring users to dive in and out to carry on multiple conversations at once. The PlayBook app’s two-panel interface lets users switch between online friends and active conversations on the right while sending instant messages on the right. Users receive notifications whenever they receive a new Chat no matter where in the app they are — a major improvement over the Facebook for iPhone and other mobile apps that don’t include Chat notifications.

While the news feed and Chat may work well, a mobile device needs to support feature that are core to mobile use cases such as Places, which allows users to check in to nearby locations, and Events, which allows users to view the address of a party they might be on their way to. Without these, in many cases Blackberry PlayBook users may be better off using Facebook’s mobile website via the browser, which includes Places, Events, and Groups.

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