Facebook has always been a unique website, one that people could never leave (and didn't want to) because it was the only way to be in contact with their friends. Ever since the advent of smartphones, the site has had an app for them that is used much more often than their desktop or laptop. Facebook Touch extends these advantages into even smaller screens where it would be difficult to use a mouse (let alone enter text).
Many people are now using Facebook's mobile app more than any other method of getting on the site. In Q1 of 2014, 49% of their daily active users were using the app on a non-desktop device (Chart 1). In Q2, it increased to 56% (Chart 2). It is predicted that by 2017, 50% of Facebook's mobile traffic will come from Facebook mobile-only, compared to 30% in 2014. With this in mind, Facebook clearly wants to make sure they're optimizing their app for as many devices as possible.
Internet users worldwide
Nearly 80% of people own a smartphone now. This number is predicted to increase because smartphone sales are increasing and smartphone penetration is not at 100%. This means that more people have access to the internet on their phones than ever before (Chart 3). There are 2.43 billion internet users worldwide and the number is predicted to increase to 2.77 billion by 2018. The biggest rise in users will be in Asia, specifically China with 505 million expected by then. The second-largest rise will be in Africa, where there are already 288 million internet users (Chart 4). Facebook is available in 85 different languages, which means that being able to access the site through your phone is extremely convenient when you don't speak English.
Facebook also aims to make as much of its website available on as many mobile devices as it can. Since 2007, Facebook has offered an app for every major smartphone operating system from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
Why Facebook app update necessary?
With the invention of the iOS 7, Apple made several large changes to its OS. These changes put Facebook at a disadvantage because they would have to not only update their app but also make it look significantly different than their previous design. Apple's new OS focused on flat UI patterns and a more "clean" look. The main Facebook app was no exception and was given a major revamp in 2014 (Chart 5).
Facebook's response to this was to create a new app that fit perfectly with the design of Apple's new operating system. Facebook released "Facebook Touch" in May 2014 and it is a separate app from the normal Facebook app. Facebook Touch is essentially a mini-scale down of the main Facebook app designed to fit better on devices with smaller screens. As you can see from Chart 6, iPhone users are spending less time on the actual Facebook app and are instead using applications like Facebook Messenger or Instagram more. When designing an app for Apple's new flat UI, it might be too much work to revamp all of their major apps (Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram), so instead, they create a new one that fits better on mobile devices with small screens.
As of September 2014, Facebook Touch is only available on iPhone and iPod Touch devices. It is not yet available on iPad or Android devices.
It's clear why Facebook created this app. The most popular screen sizes for phones in 2014 are as follows: iPhone 5/5s: 4 inches, Samsung Galaxy S4: 4.2 inches, Nexus 4: 4.7 inches, Moto X: 4.7 inches, and iPhone 6/6 Plus: 4.7 inches (Chart 7). These would be the phones that they'd target with the app because they are the most popular screens sizes in recent years and it would likely be more profitable to do so than to create separate apps for each size (Chart 8). Facebook's app is only between 300-500 Mb, which isn't much considering how massive the actual app is.
The main goal of the Facebook app and Facebook touch
The main goal of Facebook is to connect as many people as possible to each other. They want to provide the best experience for their users and this is what they've done with Facebook Touch. The main purpose of the app is so that users can access the site on 2G connections, which are still very popular in developing countries (Chart 9). If you don't have a fast internet connection, then you can still access the site and your friends' updates by using the Facebook Touch app because it's just a separate version of Facebook that requires less bandwidth.
It is clear why Facebook would implement Facebook Touch. They want to make their app easier to use and more attractive to their users if they've bought a new phone. It's easier for people with newer phones to switch over to a new app that is better fitted for their device than it is for them to use a website. Facebook also wants to carry over some of the features that made them so popular in the first place, such as being able to access the site on older phones with slower internet connections.
Facebook is aiming for maximum exposure through their apps and this is why they've released Facebook Touch as a separate app from the normal one.