Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

facebook messenger logoSome time ago Facebook launched it’s cross platform messaging app: Facebook Messenger; the mobile stand alone app that fully integrates Facebook messaging with your cell phone. Sounds awesome right? Sadly, it’s badly broken.
I recently tweeted a designer at Facebook to ask why the UX of the app is so bad, in turn he asked me to describe what’s wrong so they can fix it. So are you listening Facebook? Great. Here’s what’s wrong with the iOS version:

Starting the app
Takes time. A lot of time. Why? There is no large graphics in use. Why does it start slower than some third party messaging or twitter apps? Short messaging on mobile devices is supposed to be fast. Loading the app for over a full second is bad user experience.

If I’d have to guess what’s wrong I’d say Facebook Messenger is loading the entire message database at startup when all the user really needs is something like the last 5 messages.

Loading and responsiveness
So the app is now loaded. Let’s start messaging! No? Unresponsive?! But why? Why is there a second load time?

This second load becomes even weirder when I start the app from a notification. The app should be loading the message I was notified about but instead it seems to load for several full seconds. Even on WiFi.

If I’d have to guess what’s wrong I’d say you’re syncing ALL the messaging data with the server…

Don’t, do, that. Ever.

Always smart load, download only the essential information to start using the app. Then download the rest in the background while the user is happily messaging away. This is critical on mobile devices.

If even Apple, that clearly doesn’t get social at all, get’s the importance of user feedback in short messaging. And the Facebook web interface clearly shows when the other party is writing something to you… Why do you not show this information in the Messenger app? If someone starts typing, send that information. Show an indication of this in the app.

And please, don’t make my phone vibrate with every new messages when the thread is open on the screen.

Notifications on iOS  are a bit strange. They don’t sync between iPhone and iPad and the app can’t receive any data from the notification. So some odd behavior is simply inescapable. However, most of the odd behavior with notifications from Facebook’s Messenger app have nothing to do with that.

The main problem is that notifications aren’t consistent between mobile app and web. As a matter of fact I haven’t even been able to understand what triggers mobile notifications. In my tests some messenges have triggered notifications on both web and mobile while other, identical tests, have triggered only one of them. Once I even received a mobile notification while typing a response in that very thread on the web.

Notifications are hard. Really hard. But a few simple basics should at least get you of out this mess:

  • If the thread open on web and the page is active (focused some time the last minute or so) – don’t send a notification at all.
  • If the thread not open and the page is not active – send a notification.
  • If the thread minimized in the web browser but the page is active – send only a web notification.

Facebook Messenger

Do I realize that these features are more complex than I have described them here? Yes. But they’re not very complex for a product team such as the one behind Facebook.

Do I realize that Facebook usually releases features and then iterates on them to improve the user experience? Yes. But this is a web strategy. A mobile app is often, like in this case, just a good interface on top of a web service. If the interface is bad, the service is bad.
Iterate all you want on the service. But “release early, release often”  is not a viable strategy for a mobile interface.

So why am I taking time to complain write all this? Because Facebook Messages, and Facebook Messenger, is a great product. It will help me organize my communication even better and have faster communications with my friends. No longer will discussions be spread through WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS, Email etc etc.

And the reason I can’t do that today is the Facebook Messenger interface. With god damn enourmous amounts of some luck this post might help Facebook create a really good Messenger app faster. Fingers crossed. Also, I’m available for hire.

Thanks to @MagnusEngdal and Sara Öhman for helping me with the testing.

Ben from the Facebook Messenger team replies with some information about the upcoming version 1.5 of the app. Early the next morning I had it and started using it. And I must say it’s a big improvement. I’ll write a follow up shortly about this new version.

4 thoughts on “Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

  1. Hi Jesper,
    Thanks for the great and well thought-out critiques! You definitely spent a lot of time working on this, and the Messenger team really appreciated hearing your thoughts.
    I just wanted to write back and let you know:
    1) You’re right that startup (especially from a push notification) isn’t fast enough right now. We’re definitely working on making loading faster.
    We just released Facebook Messenger 1.5.2 to the Apple App Store today, which includes some good improvements to make startup quicker, but we’re not done yet.
    2) We’re not loading the entire database, either from the server or from disk. We load the last 50 messages at startup, but the current design of the app does load all your friends from disk into memory — this could take some time if you have lots of friends.
    One problem we do have right now is that we initially got a number of crashes caused by corrupt database files. To help mitigate this, we do a quick database consistency check at startup, and discard it if it’s corrupt. This also takes time, but we figured it was better than random crashes.
    That said, we are also working on fixing this to make all these loads asynchronous and more intelligently do DB consistency checks, and to do a lot less work when opening from a push notification. Please stay tuned!
    3) As of Messenger 1.5, we do show (and send) typing indicators when you or your friends are typing. Just look at the top of the screen when you’re in a one-on-one conversation, and it will show “typing…” if your friend is typing.
    4) The push notification recommendations you describe are in fact part of Facebook Messenger. They weren’t rolled out to all users at launch time due to performance issues, but they should be rolled out to everyone now.
    Thanks again, and do try out 1.5.2 and let us know if it helps a bit. Things aren’t perfect yet, but they should be a bit better now.


    1. Thanks for the great reply Ben!I’m using the new version now and it’s a huge improvement. Going to test it out for a bit and write another post.
      Thanks again! Impressive to see you guys so responsive. 🙂


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