Facebook is announcing a new standalone iPhone app called Paper. Contrary to earlier rumors, it’s much more than just a news-reading app — it’s a complete reimagining of Facebook itself. Once you’ve used it, you may never want to open the standard Facebook app again. It might not replicate every feature of Facebook’s main app, but it does fulfill the majority of people’s needs. Simply put, it’s much, much better.
Paper takes the standard Facebook News Feed and re-creates it as an immersive, horizontally scrolling set of screens. It also provides a new way to post to Facebook (and Paper) with an elegant WYSIWYG editor that borrows the styling of Medium’s and Svbltle’s blogging systems. Finally, yes, it’s a news-reading app that owes some of its looks to Flipboard. It will be available for the iPhone in the US (and only the iPhone in the US) on Feb. 3. It’s also ad-free, at least for now.
Paper cuts away virtually all buttons and other UI elements to make every status update, photo, and news story appear full-screen. To get around, you will need to learn a basic set of gestures, but the app will gently remind you what they are if it thinks you’re stuck. Wide photos pan as you tilt the phone (the team cheekily calls it the “Ken turns” effect), UI elements often just fade away, and news stories are presented in Twitter-esque cards.
Paper is the first product to come out of Facebook Creative Labs, a unit within the company tasked to “innovate and build new things,” as Facebook product manager Michael Reckhow puts it. That’s likely a sign that Paper will be just one of what CEO Mark Zuckerberg called “new and engaging types of mobile experiences” on [Thursday’s] earnings call. Since its embarrassing Snapchat clone called Poke failed, Facebook seems closer to figuring out the right formula for its single-use apps. Facebook knows that mobile users are gravitating toward such apps, and it intends to create more of them.