Memories of Home: Facebook's iPhone-only Paper app leaves you with a familiar feeling

Facebook has finally taken the wraps off Paper, its news-aggregator application, which will release on 3 February, a day before the social networking website celebrates its 10th birthday. The timing of the app’s release comes right on cue, with rumours swirling around Facebook’s expansion into mobiles, but the app itself is completely unexpected.


For one, Paper only seems to be aimed at iOS devices for now. The video preview and the advertisements see no mention of Paper for Android devices. However, the features of the app indicate that this could be because it is very similar to the launcher, Facebook Home, that is already available on Android devices. The menu, the shortcuts on the application, the options to share, like and dislike are very reminiscent of Facebook’s Android launcher experience.


In terms of interface, Paper relies on a visually-heavy layout to draw users in and entice them to flip page after page of handpicked stories. The app also allows you to view stories from your Facebook feed in a horizontal scrolling fashion, something that Android users are already able to do.


According to Facebook, Paper allows you to swipe your thumb across the screen to run through stories naturally, tilt the phone to get a better look at the images, check out panoramic, high-res pictures and more. Auto-playing videos will take up the whole screen for a more immersive experience.


 Memories of Home: Facebooks iPhone-only Paper app leaves you with a familiar feeling

News Feed over news


Facebook says that News Feed will be the primary section of your Paper app, which will allow you to view stories from your friends updates as well as from pages you follow. All you will need to do is swipe to the left and right to view more. Paper will even let you preview your photos, status updates and check-in details before posting. Facebook has also made the share, like and reply buttons more prominent.


But that’s all about Facebook making Paper a versatile application that ropes in stories from within your News Feed to make the experience a lot more personal. What about the primary aim of the app - curating news stories - then?


While Facebook claims it has tried to emulate the flipping of a newspaper to give you a more natural experience, it’s pretty evident we’ve seen the whole premise on another app – Flipboard. Quite like Flipboard, Paper allows you to flip through stories, and view large, image based covers which help you decide whether you would want to read the story. You can also choose your interests like Science, Technology, Fashion, Entertainment.


Paper users can create personalised feeds too. Choose from a list of publishers and publications that Facebook is partnering with and you’re all set. The social network says that the stories in the sections include a rich mix of content from “emerging voices and well-known publications”. According to rumours, Facebook has hired editors so that there is a human touch to the stories that appear in this section and has reduced its algorithm formula.


Facebook however, is treading into crowded territory. News reading apps are turning out to be the latest rage in the app world, second only to messaging apps. Flipboard is going from strength to strength and has logged in a 100 million users for its service. A massive update last year allows Flipboard 2.0 users to create and co-create their own magazines.


Flipboard has been an inspiration, clearly

Flipboard has been an inspiration, clearly

Pulse got taken over by LinkedIn last year and Google pushed in Currents on its Android app to Play Newsstand. Not just the app category it’s placed in, but even the name is tricky point for Facebook. It’s interesting to note that while Paper has been announced for iPhones, an app called Paper for iPad already exists in the Apple App Store.


Facebook would most likely have to tweak the app a bit, if it has ambitions to bring Paper to Android any time soon. Given its reliance on News Feed, Paper could end up cannibalising Facebook Home.


Clearly for Facebook, the future is mobile. In its earnings call yesterday, Facebook announced that its monthly active users on mobile have grown 39 percent last year, with 945 million mobile users in Q4 of 2013. Facebook is even earning big bucks from mobile advertising with 53 percent of the company’s revenue coming via that channel.


However, when it comes to applications, Facebook has not had too many strokes of genius. With the exception of Messenger, which is fast becoming one of the primary cross-platform messaging apps on iOS and Android, Facebook has had its fair share of duds. Poke sank with barely a trace and Facebook Home has taken months to even warm up with users.  So, the social networking website has quite a task on its hands to make Paper popular.


Will only launching it on iOS prove to be a costly mistake?

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