Facebook ‘Chat Heads’ coming to iOS app

April 16, 2013

Facebook will be bringing a piece of the Facebook Home suite to Apple devices through an update to its social networking app, but iPhones won’t have anything like the deep integration that Android users using Facebook Home have.

The social networking company said that just one piece of the changes — the newly designed chat layout called “Chat Heads” — will be coming to the iPhone. Chat heads changes the way Facebook messaging looks, popping up a small image of your conversation partner’s face on the screen over whatever else you may be doing.

On Android phones with Facebook Home Apple devices, chat heads appear over any open app. On Apple devices, the interface will only work in the Facebook app itself, the company said.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Apple and Facebook were in deeper “talks” about bringing the social network’s full suite of apps to iOS devices, but those reports met with plenty of skepticism. Facebook product director Adam Mosseri had told Bloomberg that it may also bring design elements of Facebook Home to the iPhone — the new iOS app shows that much, at least, is already happening.

Based on Apple’s approach to apps such as Facebook Home in the past, however, it does seem unlikely that iOS users will see features similar to the full Facebook Home suite any time soon. Apple, after all, doesn’t allow apps that change its core functions, such as its keyboard, phone or messaging apps. That’s why whole genres of apps — such as so-called ID apps, keyboard modification apps and customized launchers — that are on Google Play are nowhere to be found on the iPhone.

Because of the different development opportunities on Android, Bloomberg noted, Facebook has made a concerted effort to get employees to drop iPhones in favor of Android devices to develop products for Google’s open platform.

“I actually had to get up in front of the entire company and make an ask for people to shift,” Mosseri said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Last year, several tech sites reported that Facebook had begun putting posters all over its headquarters asking users to consider switching to Android, citing the fact that the Google platform’s user base is growing more quickly, though Mosseri said that the majority of Facebook employees still have iPhones.

Facebook’s push into mobile has also been seen as a threat to Android, because it puts an emphasis on Facebook products rather than competing Google products such as Google+.

In comments at the All Things Digital D: Dive into Mobile conference Monday, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that Google’s happy to see what Facebook’s done with Android and has no interest in shutting it down.

“This is what open source is all about,” he said.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Related stories:

Why you would — and wouldn’t — want Facebook Home

Snapchat processes 150 million images per day

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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