Opinion: social networking on the iPad

Tony Bradley
10 July, 2011
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While some may debate the business purpose or value of social networking, it is a staple of my work day. I use social networks to stay on top of trends and breaking news, and I use social networks to share with others when I find interesting news or write posts of my own. Since I rely on social networks, one of the litmus tests for this 30 Days With the iPad project is to ensure the Apple tablet can meet my social networking needs.

I have built social networks on Facebook—both personal and a Facebook Page—LinkedIn and Twitter. Unfortunately, of those three Twitter is the only one with an actual iPad app, and my preferred tool for working with Twitter on my PC—which is available for the iPhone—is also not available in an iPad version. I can tolerate using an iPhone app in standard size in limited doses, but I abhor expanding iPhone apps to fit the iPad display—it’s pixelated and looks terrible.

Let’s examine each of the social networks separately.


Mark Zuckerberg was asked about a Facebook app for the iPad and replied “the iPad’s not mobile”. The statement did not make any sense to me. I thought, “Has he never seen or used an iPad?”

Eventually, I understood the statement to mean that Zuckerberg didn’t believe the iPad needed a mobile app because it has a larger display than a smartphone, and it runs the full Safari browser—so users can just visit the Facebook site in the browser like they would on a desktop or notebook PC.

That may be true to a point—right up to the point where it’s not. First, the Facebook site doesn’t fit nicely in the Safari browser on the iPad display. Using the Facebook site requires a lot of panning and pinching and zooming to navigate about.

Second, the iPad is mobile. I use my iPad at Starbucks. I use my iPad at my daughter’s gymnastics class. I carry the iPad with me—way more often, and to way more places than I ever considered lugging my notebook. Granted, there is virtually no time ever when I don’t have my iPhone on me as well, but because the iPad is portable it would be nice if you could check-in to Facebook Places on it, and find out about Facebook Deals. You can do it, but only by using the Facebook iPhone app.

Then there is the problem with photo sharing. The iPhone app knows how to connect with the iOS photo library, or interact directly with the camera to add a photo. The website, however, expects to find a traditional system of files and folders to browse, or to connect with a webcam using a tool that requires Adobe Flash. You can resort to uploading a photo via email, but that is a clunky solution compared with the elegance I experience with the iPhone app.

Friendly for Facebook

I have used two different third-party iPad apps for Facebook: Friendly for Facebook, and MyPad (formerly FacePad, but I think Facebook slapped it for infringing on the word ‘Face’). Both provide iPad-sized access to my Facebook social network. In general, I prefer to use MyPad. I like the look and feel of the interface better—it’s a lot like the Twitter iPad app. However, MyPad doesn’t seem to have any easy way of adding photos to Facebook either, while Friendly for Facebook lets you use the iPad camera or upload from the iPad photo library.

I was hoping the big news from Facebook this week was going to be the rumored iPad app, but instead we got video chat. I’ll keep hoping.


Apparently LinkedIn follows the same ‘it’s not mobile’ philosophy as Facebook when it comes to the iPad. Like Facebook, LinkedIn has a pretty awesome iPhone app, but does not offer anything specific for the iPad. Instead, LinkedIn just expects you to use the Safari browser and visit the LinkedIn site like you would on a desktop PC.

In LinkedIn’s defense, at least its site manages to automatically resize itself to fit the iPad display—even if you rotate from portrait to landscape. If you eliminate the panning and pinching and zooming, it makes it much easier to work with the site. And, I don’t have the issue of trying to post photos to LinkedIn like I do with Facebook.

I can live with using the LinkedIn site on the iPad, but I would still prefer an iPad-sized version of the LinkedIn iPhone app. The app is simpler and easier to work with. Granted, the goal of this month is to see if the iPad can fill the role of notebook PC, and I use the LinkedIn site on my Windows 7 PC just fine, so it seems a little nit-picky to criticize LinkedIn for not providing an iPad app.


Then we have Twitter. When iOS 5 is released, iOS will have deep Twitter integration and most of this will be irrelevant. Twitter will just be engrained in iOS and I won’t need an app. But, for now, if I want to use Twitter on the iPad I have to choose between the Twitter site, and the Twitter app.

I am aware that there is a vast array of Twitter client apps available for the iPad: TwitBird, Twit Pro, Echofon for Twitter, Twitellator for iPad, Twitterific for Twitter, and a myriad of other options—including the official Twitter app from Twitter itself. Missing from that list is Tweetdeck, which is the tool I use for interacting with Twitter on my PC.

Tweetdeck has an iPhone app. Tweetdeck used to have an iPad app as well, but it disappeared. I was under the impression that Tweetdeck was hard at work developing a new and improved Tweetdeck for iPad, but then Twitter bought Tweetdeck so that leaves things sort of in limbo.

As with the other two social networks, I could simply view the iPad as a PC in a different form factor and just use the Twitter website, except that I never use the Twitter website—not even on my PC. I don’t like the Twitter website much, and I find that Twitter alone lacks a lot of the features and functionality I have come to expect from using Tweetdeck—which coincidentally also lets me view update streams and post messages to Facebook and LinkedIn.

Twitter’s iPad app

In the absence of Tweetdeck, I have resorted to using the official Twitter app for iPad. Twitter has done a good job of developing an app that takes advantage of the touchscreen gestures of the iPad. I find it much more manageable and intuitive than working with the Twitter website.

As I wrap up, let me give a quick plug for Flipboard. The app is one of Oprah’s “Favourite Things,” so obviously it must be awesome! No, seriously—it is awesome. Flipboard is more than just a social networking tool, but the way it presents content from my social networks makes keeping up with the message streams and updates a much more enjoyable experience.

Flipboard does allow you to interact with the social networks—’like’ Facebook posts, post comments, retweet, etc.—but I wouldn’t recommend relying on it as a tool for managing your social networks per se. I use Flipboard as a more enjoyable means of reading what others have to say, and the other tools and solutions mentioned above as my means of sharing what I have to say with others.

Overall, I give the iPad a passing grade when it comes to replacing my notebook as a platform for social networking. It is capable of working with the actual sites, just like a PC, and the apps that are available for the various social networks actually make it a better tool than the PC in some instances.

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