Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm.

Path and Instagram are making Facebook look incredibly uninventive at mobile

As the “mobile Internet” becomes the Internet, one big question about Facebook is: Will it remain the dominant mobile social network, or will it be replaced by a mobile-first or mobile-only social network?

Size is on Facebook’s side. The company says it has more than 350 million mobile users. Its iOS app alone has 98 million monthly active users, and is probably the most popular iPhone app of all time. It will take any new competitor a long time to reach those numbers.

And Facebook is reportedly working on ways to make itself more of a mobile platform, not just a service — including phones running its own, heavily customized version of Android. This is a smart strategic move, especially if it can do a good job.

But boy is Facebook’s mobile presence looking bland these days.

  • The new Path app, for example, is much more attractive and feels more magical.
  • Instagram, I’ve found, is a much more interesting photo app to spend time with on my phone than Facebook (or Flickr or Tumblr, for that matter).
  • Twitter is still a better service than Facebook for wasting time and reading status updates.
  • To put it nicely, Facebook’s app can be… “quirky” at times. Loading photos often takes a couple of tries. It’s getting better, but it’s hardly polished.
  • And Facebook’s attempts at mobile-first features, like Facebook Places, are uninspiring at best.

Maybe Facebook is saving its best and most interesting work for its big mobile platform push. Maybe it has a bunch of amazing and magical mobile features it is preparing to share someday. And, again, I don’t mean to suggest that Facebook is doing poorly at mobile — it’s doing as well as you’d expect for a huge incumbent.

But when’s the last time Facebook really wowed you with something in mobile?

Also: Is the Facebook phone too late to matter?