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Facebook Home: Are you ready?

April 4th, 2013

Today’s launch of Home by Facebook, highlights a key mobile trend: the hardware and software through which people access the Internet through mobile devices is proliferating. Google, Facebook and others are vying to innovate and drive down prices for consumers. So mobile devices aren’t just less powerful than desktops, but the variability of capabilities, constraints and new features is *much* wider than that of desktops.

So, we live in a world where even small startups like mine, Tip or Skip, need to support many screens. How do we do it?

The answer: focus on the interaction layer. For us, that means supporting basically one simple interaction: either click “Tip”, or swipe “Skip”. Display one picture at a time.

After defining the interactions, you can write the API. The API critically tells how a potentially low-powered mobile device exchanges information with a super-charged backend. Once you have an API, you can split up the front-end and back-end work.

On the front-end, you have to build multiple clients. Start with HTML5, because it works OK in most places and you can iterate the product quickly. But soon, you’ll need to also slog out native iOS and Android apps. Luckily, mobile users expect apps to have simple functionality and to use standard interface elements. This speeds development. (And don’t forget to think about how to market your app.)

On the back-end, you probably have a lot of work to do. We’ve built a social network where lots of interactions are shared with thousands of people. Handling this is no small feat, and I have awesome respect for what companies like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have done.

But have no doubt: although LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have complex backends, their basic architecture is pretty similar to ours, and much of the front-end work is comparable.

A pro-tip: watch out for issues where concerns of the front-end and back-end collide. For example, scrolling through lots of images at once or providing “seamless video.” In these examples, technical limitations of mobile devices drive new concerns for the backend that the desktop web never exposed. In the future, I hope to blog more thoughts about how to solve these kinds of problems and what enabling technologies they will spawn. But for now, suffice it to say that these issues are at the cutting edge of mobile architecture.

Finally, what does this say for engineering talent? For backend folks, there continue to be robust growth for engineers (especially for the very, very best). But the demand for great mobile talent who are obsessed with user experience is extreme far outstrips supply, since we are just at the beginning phases of mapping and creating all the meaningful mobile interactions that need to be developed.

The biggest piece, that no one yet has solved, is the interaction layer. The top mobile companies are in various stages of developing this infrastructure, and this is where the most valuable work is being done. And out of this work, some interesting enabling technology will emerge that will add even more fuel to the development of mobile apps.

If you focus on a strong engagement layer, you will rapidly be able to exploit these new mobile opportunities like Facebook Home. For what it’s worth, Tip or Skip is well integrated through our own interaction layer so we should be in good position if Facebook Home takes off.

How about your mobile apps – are they ready for Facebook Home?

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