Facebook’s universal app for iOS received a major update today with some behind-the-scenes tweaking that should lead to some drastic speed improvements.

Until now, the app was built with HTML 5. But with the update, Facebook totally redesigned it from the ground up using Apple’s iOS SDK. The look will remain mostly the same, but the speed improvements and a Timeline view for the iPad are probably the top changes.

The speed improvements will be noticeable almost immediately. The app opens much faster and the news feed and notifications load right when you open Facebook. Stories also scroll much smoother and faster. When new stories come in, a banner lets you know, and you can tap once to see the latest updates.

Looking at photos is also much improved. You can tap on any photo and it opens up right away. To close, simply pull down with a single swipe.

Version 5.0 of Facebook is designed for both the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad. It can be downloaded free in the App Store now.

We’ve never been fond of the app before either, and we recently reported on a way to replace the official app with a more mobile version. But I’m hopeful users will actually see some of the speed improvements promised by Facebook in the update. The previous version was not exactly well received on the App Store, with more than half of reviews being one star.