What is Facebook Paper? It’s a little hard to pin down. Is it an enhanced newsfeed? A pretty, magazine-style newsreader? A total replacement for the traditional Facebook iOS app? The short answer is that it’s a little of all of those things, but it could just be the Facebook app we have all been waiting for.
Paper’s functionality is at first hidden under a layer of gloss. A guided startup has a gentle female voice telling us how to set up our feed and use the app’s various functions. Down the road, when a function is uncovered for the first time she will pop up again. It’s a nice introduction and it gets the user accustomed to navigating the interface, which turns out to be dead simple.
Swipe to the left to cycle through various feeds, swipe up to open a feed item or story (swipe up again to expand the story), swipe down to close (swipe down again to open the settings menu), and so on. The experience is enhanced by accelerometer-aided photo exploration (hi-res photos can be panned by tilting the handset).
As far as those feeds go, Facebook provides a variety of collections for everything from breaking news and tech to lifestyle and sports. They provide a solid list of articles from bigger sources like the New York Times as well as smaller outlets and blogs. If there is one drawback, Facebook offers no customization of feeds. Sorry, you won’t be adding your favorite site to the list.
Articles first appear as a brief preview along the bottom (or top, if featured) of the screen, and can be expanded with a tap or a swipe to provide a more complete snippet. A second swipe will expand the article further to its original source.
And the app carries all the functionality of the stock Facebook app (for the most part), though it might not seem that way at first. It takes a bit of digging to uncover all of Facebook’s functionality, but main features like messages, notifications, and friend requests are always present along the top of the screen.
You won’t be able to dive as deeply into Facebook as you could on the desktop or other mobile apps, but the experience is fitting. Paper is great for mobile, providing easy access to the stories you want and allowing enough levels of interaction (sharing, commenting, and posting) to keep the app from becoming one dimensional. Paper is not the app you want if you plan on managing a page or creating events, but it is more than suitable for the average user on the go looking to kill a few minutes of time.
At its core, Paper reminds us of Facebook Home, the Android app and homescreen replacement app that took a similar approach. Visual content is emphasized. Navigation is crisp and intuitive. Unlike the ill-fated Home, however, Paper looks to have a real chance at becoming the main Facebook app for many users.