5 things you need to know about the new Facebook SDK

Jean-Francois Hector
By Jean-Francois Hector under Insights, Engineering 14 May 2013

The App Business attended the Facebook Mobile Developer Conference in London recently where Facebook was presenting its new Software Development Kit (SDK) 3.5 for iOS, which is still in beta mode.

We were interested to see what Facebook will offer with its latest SDK and what this means for the development and user experience of apps that integrate with Facebook in the future.

Facebook is clearly putting a lot of effort into providing pre-built user interface elements that mobile developers can readily use. These new elements provide a slick, clear and effective user experience. The only downside is that they feel like Facebook and not like your app, often taking the user out of your app and into Facebook.

Here’s the low-down on each new feature specifically, and what the new SDK means for apps and mobile developers:

1. Pre-built Facebook ‘share’ screen is a smart way to save on costs, if you don’t mind the inconsistent look & feel. 

With the new SDK, a pre-built ‘Facebook share screen’ can be pulled up from directly within an app. Facebook calls it the Native ‘share’ dialog box. This screen will allow users to preview their Facebook post, add a comment, tag friends from their friends’ list, tag places from Facebook’s location-picker and select who’s going to be able to see their post.

All of this was possible before, but app developers had to build the interface themselves using Facebook’s Open Graph API. The new screen means that there are now three ways app users can share something on Facebook.

a. The iOS6 Simple Share Sheet doesn’t require an app to be logged-in with Facebook, but doesn’t support friend and location-tagging or app attribution, so the story will not be attributed to your app when it appears on Facebook.

b. A Native Share Dialog (new in SDK 3.5) doesn’t require an app to be logged in with Facebook and does support friend and location-tagging, and app attribution. The downfall with this option is that the dialog box looks like Facebook and not like your app so it makes for an inconsistent user-experience.

c. Facebook’s custom-built share interface requires a bit of extra work but supports app attribution, tagging and you can use your own app interface.

Essentially, the new Native Share Dialog box is a useful pre-built element for your app. Use it when you can. However, we would still recommend creating a bespoke interface if you want your app to offer its own consistent user-experience, or for example, if your app concept requires the Facebook stories to be published from the back-end app server rather than from the iOS app itself.

2. New Facebook permission boxes are converting 5% better, however, we still prefer the old one.

A lot of users drop out of apps when asked for permission to access their Facebook data or publish stories on their behalf. Facebook has re-designed these permission boxes to provide a clearer, more ‘trustworthy’ experience for the user and is seeing a 5% increase in conversion rates.

One thing to note is that Facebook has now separated ‘access data’ and ‘publish’ permissions. You can’t ask for all permissions on the same screen any more. Our advice here is to ask for the ‘publish’ permissions in context: as the user is about to post something rather than upfront.

These new boxes look great, but like the old ones, they don’t keep the user in the app. When you ask for Facebook permissions, the user is automatically taken out of the app and into the Facebook app, and then back into your app again. A simpler option, now available on iOS6, is to ask for Facebook permissions directly from within your app with a pop-up dialog box.

3. You can now post documents to Facebook, making a lot of new app ideas possible.

Facebook is introducing a Google Docs-like feature where users can create, host and share documents directly on Facebook. This means that your app will be able to create, edit and share these documents on the user’s behalf.

4. New Object Application Programming Interface (API) means you no longer need a back-end to post bespoke stories to Facebook.

Until now, apps needed a back-end server to publish custom Open Graph stories on Facebook, but with Facebook’s new object API, these Open Graph actions can be posted without a back-end server.

5. New object browser provides a nice view into what your apps are posting to Facebook, but you still need a content management system.

The new admin interface will let you see a list of all the Open Graph actions that users have published on Facebook through your app. You can browse the list, but not delete or moderate content, so it is by no means a full Content Management System but is still quite helpful.

It’s good to see that Facebook is updating its SDK to enhance the integrated app experience and make developers lives a little easier. And while Facebook is not quite there yet in terms of a consistent and seamless user experience, it’s definitely on the right track with these new features.

Post your thoughts and comments on Facebook’s new SDK 3.5 for iOS below.