Facebook is an amazing social network for keeping in touch with friends and family around the world. Facebook is also a brutal app that consistently impacts battery life on my iPhone. So, like my colleague Russel Holly did on Android, I uninstalled the app for a while to see if going mobile web-only would work.
Some background on background: Whenever I check the battery usage stats on my iPhone or iPad, without fail, Facebook is the one and only app that's been more active offscreen than on. Often double, triple, or more. That's... appalling.
Since Facebook started life as a website, though, and that's still how everyone accesses it on traditional computers, accessing it that way on mobile has always been a possibility. Due to the resource limitations of phones, including display size, apps have proven to be a better for interaction. If Facebook isn't respecting those resource limitations, however, it makes the app much less appealing.
Flying Facebook.app free!
So, on a recent trip to the U.S., where roaming on AT&T's network puts my iPhone radio into battery-draining overdrive anyway, I decided to see if I could stick to using m.facebook.com in hopes of lightening the rest of the load. And in large part, it worked. I was able to check notifications and do many of the things I normally do through the Facebook app.
It wasn't outrageously great, of course. The algorithm-derived timeline on the mobile site was incredibly different than the one shown in the app. Much of the stuff I'd suppressed or prioritized over the last year seemed not to be taken into account and I got much more of a firehose feel than I was used to. For example, I immediately saw my colleague, Serenity Caldwell's post in the app's timeline (above) but it was nowhere to be found in the mobile website's timeline (below).
The interface for everything from navigation to image upload is nowhere near as good either, which stands to reason given the limitations of the web. I often push images from Instagram anyway, so it wasn't a huge concern. I didn't seen any way to add a Live Photo that would stay live, but that makes sense given the limitations of web uploads.
Most importantly, though, battery life did seem much better. To be clear, this wasn't a scientific test and things like radio activity and screen-on time still play a far larger role in power consumption than even Facebook's egregious background processes. There's also a possible placebo effect and, since using the mobile site isn't as convenient as using the mobile app, I didn't use Facebook as often. Feel free to file that as pro or con.
Compromising for convenience
By the end of the trip I'd reinstalled the Facebook app to try and find a restaurant I'd checked into a couple of years ago, alas to no avail. From then on I tried a more elaborate strategy — I used the Facebook app for things like check-ins but then I killed it and went back to the mobile website for more frequent activities like keeping up with notifications.
I don't have notifications enabled in the Facebook app anyway — unlike Messenger, which is a separate app now, I've never found anything else to be urgent enough to warrant it — so manually looking for them on the web makes no real difference to me. If I'm waiting in line or otherwise bored, I check.
Your use cases, of course, may well vary.
Bottom (battery) line
In a perfect world the Facebook app, like every other app on my iPhone, simply wouldn't behave as badly in the background. I say 'simply', but Facebook is approaching iTunes levels of 'impossible jobs' to be done in an app, given how many features it tries to provide its billion plus members.
The company's iOS engineers are some of the best in the business, so I'm hopeful they can become as aggressive with power management as they are with interactions, and get that off-screen time literally off my screen.
Until then, though, I'll likely still use the Facebook website more than I want to on mobile. Which sucks, because I shouldn't have to choose between Facebook's app and a working phone.
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