¶ Yummy Yummy Chat Heads

I have to admit, like my friend David Chartier, I am a rare breed of nerd who actually likes Facebook. David talked a lot about Facebook Home and its potential. I want to talk about the new iOS app, Facebook 6.0.

The 6.0 update to the Facebook app streamlines the interface for the better, and beefs up its messaging capabilities. One way it does this is through Stickers, which are fun little pictures you can sling around through private or group messages. They’re cute, because they were designed by the awesome David Lanham.

But the real news here is Chat Heads, which show the avatar of the friend(s) you are currently chatting with in a little circle off to the side of wherever you are inside Facebook’s app. You can simply tap the circle and a conversation expands as a layer on top of where you are at, you send a message, tap the circle again, and it collapses the conversation and you go right back to where you were.

It’s a really enjoyable and nice experience.

On Facebook Home for Android, Chat Heads can appear anywhere on your device, even when you are in another app. Right now, this only works within Facebook on iOS, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed that way.

But here is why I like the concept of Chat Heads, and where I’d like to see them go as a concept.

I like that they are not too intrusive during a conversation when you are doing something else. And I think they’d be the perfect interface for iMessage. Right now on iOS, it is kind of jarring to have an active back and forth with a friend over iMessage when you are also trying to look at or do something else. You switch fully from what you are doing to the conversation, then have to switch fully back.

Let’s say I am writing up a post like this on my iPad. I would much rather an iMessage come up off to the side as a little icon and wait for me to tend to it. I simply tap the icon, a conversation popover appears, I fire off a sentence, and tap back to what I am doing. It is a much less distracting way of giving a few seconds for a reply. Why?

Because even though it is a context switch, it is a very good illusion of a partial context switch (which doesn’t exist). It feels like you are only giving away attention peripherally, instead of having to be ripped from your focus of one app and dumped into another. Because you feel like you only give away quick aside of context, and you can see the task at hand right behind the conversation popover, it is easier to return to what you are doing.

Facebook and Apple seem to have a nice relationship, what with the deep integration with iOS and OS X last year. I hope that relationship could start a collaboration where maybe Apple can use the Chat Heads concept for iMessage and SMS, if they also allow Facebook Messages to be a global deal through it. I think I’d be okay with that, especially if there were a toggle.