Android’s openness, reach, and diversity create enormous opportunities for developers. At Facebook, we’ve been able to utilize Android’s flexibility to innovate in ways that aren’t possible on other platforms, like building the first version of Home. At the same time, Android’s reach allows us to get Facebook out to more people throughout the world, and the diversity of devices and networks means more affordable smart phones for more people.

Performance and reliability are top priorities across Android, but when we marry the platform’s diversity of devices and OS versions with Facebook scale, the ability to test quality across experiences can become a challenge. Beginning today, we are announcing a beta program for Facebook for Android. This new tool will help us get performance data and feedback from more people ahead of release across a wider range of devices and versions of Android. The ultimate goal of the program is to release updates to Facebook for Android that are more reliable and better performing.

Opportunity on Android

While Android allows us to push the limits of what’s possible on one end, we must balance that work by investing in providing optimal Facebook experiences on the incredibly wide diversity of devices that already exist. Facebook is the most-downloaded app in the Play Store, so we need to make sure it works for everyone, no matter their amount of RAM, network conditions, or version of Android they might be using. Factors like data costs and network speeds are especially important to users, and we want to make sure we’re always optimizing their experiences. With so many use cases to solve, testing becomes crucial to ensuring positive, consistent experiences across Android.

To help solve for this, in the last year we’ve moved to four-week release cycles so that we’re constantly fixing issues, adding new features, and shipping updated versions of the app. In between updates, we have a team that tests a wide variety of Android devices internally, and we ask our greater team of Facebook employees to use beta builds of our apps and provide feedback when they encounter bugs or other issues. But even with over a thousand people giving feedback on a regular basis, we needed a way to get a wider, more representative swath of testers.

Over the past six months, we began a partner beta program, where we have been providing pre-release versions of Facebook for Android to leading mobile industry partners including Qualcomm, HTC, Ericsson, Sony, Huawei and MediaTek, helping us better optimize for current and upcoming devices and networks. With expertise spanning topics such as graphics rendering, multimedia codecs, and network infrastructure, these partners have been incredibly helpful as we work to improve the quality of the app.

True to our Facebook DNA, we also experimented with direct downloads which delivered new versions of the app directly to select Android users. Rapidly collecting feedback and shipping fixes helped us do more comprehensive testing and iterate even more quickly.

And when Google launched their new beta-testing and staged rollout program for apps at I/O, we were excited to participate in it and started to work on building a open community of Facebook beta testers who would work towards making the app better for everyone.

Beta program

Beginning today, the Android beta program will give users who opt-in access to the latest versions of Facebook for Android before the general release. Our goals with this program are to expand our pool of testers and gain feedback across a more diverse set of devices. Just by using the app and reporting issues, beta testers will be able to help us improve performance on a wide variety of Android devices we may have otherwise been unable to test at scale.

This will give us the opportunity to eliminate our blindspots and identify a snapshot of the diversity of use cases to test our apps so when we push to our whole user base, everyone has a better experience. Whether someone is using Gingerbread or Jelly Bean, more complete testing coverage gives us the opportunity to make sure more people can access a stable, high-performance Facebook.

Anyone can join the beta program. When you join, you will get a small batch of fixes and new features every month. We ask that you use your app as you normally would, but submit a report when you encounter a bug or other issue. Because the beta build will have features that are still in progress, the app may be less stable than you’re accustomed to. Feedback on stability, as well as any other performance issues you experience, is crucial and deeply appreciated.

We are also creating a Facebook group to host active discussions, provide a forum for your feedback, and share updates. We will ask beta testers to report all bugs through the standard reporting flows.

To join the Beta program, follow these steps:

  1. Join the Facebook for Android Beta Testers Google group
  2. Allow beta downloads by clicking Become a Tester in the Play Store (you need to join the Google Group before becoming a tester)
  3. Download Facebook from the Play Store to update your app
  4. Join the Facebook for Android Beta Testers group on Facebook to tell us what you think

Anyone can join the beta program, but some might also see prompts to download the beta build in a special notification within their Facebook for Android app.

The openness of Android has allowed us to innovate and build awesome products like Home and features like Chat Heads. We are in the early days of Google’s beta program, but we’re excited to work on extending our testing coverage at scale and providing the best app experience to everyone using Facebook.

Ragavan Srinivasan is a product manager for Facebook for Android.

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