MenuTab Keeps Facebook Nicely Widgetized
May 15, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Facebook's march toward its IPO has put a harsh spotlight on the social network's shortcomings, and one of the primary worries among prospective investors is that Facebook doesn't have very sharp mobile chops. There are a million things it could be doing in mobile to draw in more revenue, they say, but it's still an area in which the network moves painfully slowly.
Maybe that's exactly why I often prefer to use Facebook through its mobile iOS app. Facebook on iOS is uncluttered and streamlined, it doesn't change often, and if there are ads anywhere on it, I don't notice them. It's not great for Facebook's bottom line, but I like it.
MenuTab for Facebook puts the Facebook mobile experience on the menu bar of your Mac. That sounds at first like taking the long way around -- Facebook does still have that thing called a website, so why not just bring that up on your desktop browser? Well, maybe you don't want to open another tab, you want an always-on notification spot, you don't want to have to manually sign in each time, or you just prefer the look of mobile Facebook to the browser-based original.
Whatever the reason, MenuTab recreates the interface of Facebook's mobile app almost perfectly. It's made by Fiplab, not Facebook, but the look is nearly identical. It turns Facebook into a widget that can automatically sign you in each time you boot up and constantly stand ready for a glance at your News Feed and a spot to jot down status updates.
Anyone familiar with Facebook's mobile app for iOS will immediately know how to operate MenuTab. The only learning curve will be trying to remember that you have to operate it with a cursor, not direct touch.
In terms of visibility, you can opt to let MenuTab fade back into the menu bar when not being used or make it stay open at all times, either on top of all other windows or in the background.
However, it seems some functions from the mobile version simply don't work. For example, when I tried to upload a photo, this is what I got:
"Sorry, your browser does not support photo uploads." Strange, I was under the impression that I wasn't using a browser at all. But that's OK. MenuTab for Facebook doesn't have to nail every feature offered on the social network's full website. This is just a side dish, and the fact that it doesn't do photos is forgivable. I'll just get photos to Facebook some other way.
It suggested some alternatives. One was uploading via email. To do that, it said, I'd have to email my photo to my personal publishing address. The address it displayed was one I'd never seen before, and it looked nothing like my name or anything I'd ever make up. It turned out that's a secret email address I wasn't aware of, and whatever is sent there posts as a status update. Good to know, I guess. But when I clicked on it, it didn't automatically draft up a message in Mail, and it couldn't be highlighted for copy/paste, and whenever I brought up Mail to type in this odd combo of letters and numbers, MenuTab faded away, so I had to hop back and forth until I got it right. Clumsy.
The app also suggested downloading and installing the Facebook app on my iPhone. That was unhelpful. If I was trying to upload a photo using a Mac app, that would probably mean the photo resides somewhere on my Mac, not necessarily on my phone.
Rather than follow either of these suggestions, I think I'll just hit up Facebook on my browser if I need to upload photos.
MenuTab for Facebook takes an interesting approach to the question of whether an app should be free or paid. The initial download is free, it does almost everything the original iPhone/iPad mobile Facebook apps do, and it's ad-supported (it hangs a somewhat unsightly little come-on at the bottom of the frame hawking other applications).
More features can be acquired by paying a few bucks, but instead of buying a full paid version, you have the option of buying whatever features you want to add a la carte. For example, if you want to get rid of that ugly little ad, it's $1. Adding opacity control is another buck. The price is the same for color-coded menu bar alerts and for pop-up notifications. Desktop mode is $2, or you can unlock everything for $3. Purchases are conducted through Apple's system.
Desktop mode gives the app a little more versatility. It can be toggled on and off, and when it's on, the view is just like what you'd see through a desktop browser. Chat is enabled in this mode. Photo uploading also works exactly the same as it does via a browser.
The opacity adjuster is handy if you want to keep this widget constantly open and on top of all windows. But if you usually have lots of text-heavy windows open, seeing two sets of text superimposed over each other might make your head split.
The color-coded menu option makes the menu bar icon blink with a different color depending on the alert being sent -- a notification, an inbox item or a friend request. The pop-up option applies to these plus chats.
MenuTab basically puts Facebook's mobile iOS app on your desktop. Some of the mobile app's features couldn't come along for the ride, though that doesn't detract greatly from the app's overall usability.
It's nice to be able to buy extra features a la carte. Desktop mode and the elimination of ads were my top picks, but at $3 for all features, you might as well go all in.