Do we need to create “all-round” social-network clients for regular computers and tablets?

There have been debates about whether Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn should develop official client-side applications for their applications when used on regular computers (desktops and laptops) or tablets like the iPad.

When I talk of a client-side application, I am thinking of an application that is written for and runs on the client device’s operating system and interacts with the Web-based social network service through known application-programming interfaces. This is in contrast to the Web-based interface that requires interaction through the client Web browser.

Of course, other people have developed client-side applications for these social networks either as an improvement for existing software projects or as their own projects themselves. These are usually considered third-party applications by the social-network provider and may not support all functions that are being baked in to the social network as it evolves.

The issue here

It may be easy to think that you don’t have to provide these client-side applications for desktop operating systems (Windows, MacOS and Linux) and tablet computers. This is because these devices can typically allow the user to competently navigate the Web-based user interface for the typical social-network service. It is compared to the smartphone having different user-interface needs that are drawn about by the use of a physically smaller screen on these devices.

Drawcards and Benefits

A major drawcard behind the social-network client application for larger-screen devices would be high integration with the device’s operating system and other applications. The benefits of this would be obvious, such as linking the “friends / followers / connections” databases held by the social-network services to local contacts databases maintained by your personal-information-management software or exhibiting of photos and videos from these services full-screen without the chrome associated with Web browser interaction.

Other benefits would include use of the operating system’s notification abilities to “pop up” messages related to these services such as direct messages or friend requests. Even the chat functionality that is part of services like Facebook would benefit from an “instant-messaging” user experience of the likes of Windows Live Messenger and Skype. This is an always-available presence list and application-created chat windows for each conversation. There is also the benefit of direct access to connected devices like printers or cameras.

Of course, there would be the computer-performance benefit of not needing to maintain a Web-browser session for each social-networking session. This is because the applications can be pared down to what is needed for the operating system; and can also be of benefit to those of us who use battery-operated devices like tablets or notebook computers.

For tablets, the user interface could be highly optimised for touch-based navigation and could make best use of the screen area of these devices. This is more so with this class of device being available in two major sizes – a 7” size for something that can stuff in your coat pocket or the larger 10” size. As well, it could include “right-sizing” the interface for the on-screen keyboard when the user needs to enter information to the service, such as through the log-on experience.

Drawbacks

The drawbacks to this will typically include another client application to develop and maintain for the service, which may cost further money for the service provider. It also includes evolving the application to newer versions of the operating system and incorporating the new features that are available through the operating system’s lifecycle.

As well, there will be the factor that the ad-supported Web interface may become more irrelevant and these applications may them limit access to the cash-cow that these services have to make money – users viewing those ads that are on that interface. This is because most users would be reluctant to load ad-supported software on their desktop computers due to system-performance and privacy issues that have been brought about by highly-intrusive adware.

Conclusion

It may therefore be worth the social networks considering the idea of developing client-side applications for desktop and tablet operating environments. This is in order to provide the user-experience improvements that such applications can provide for this class of usage.

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