Today Facebook unveiled Facebook Home that will be released on a new phone, manufactured by HTC (called the HTC First) but also mentioned their new software that sits atop Googles Android mobile operating system will be available from the 12th of April on selected, existing Android phones. If you’re looking for in-depth discussion about each feature then I suggest reading any of the large number of reviews of the phone software available on the internet, as I’m not discussing the specifics in detail here.
Instead what concerns me is what appears to be the excessive focus of the Facebook Home concept. Up until this point mobile operating systems were concerned primarily with the task of making a phone call (Smart-phone: it’s in the name). Certainly the iPhone had a great iPod and a great web browser built-in too. webOS and Android were and are much the same. The home and lock screens were never so specific that they were just about one function either. Be it Mail, SMS or any other kind of notification they never sought to make one service the front-and-center of their device.
Facebook Home changes that and is perhaps the first big-name mobile “operating system” (okay it’s just a layer on top of Android) that puts a single app and its content front and centre on the device. Naturally this makes sense for Facebook, but does this make sense for the end user?
Anecdotally people have observed that smartphone users spend a great deal more time using their smartphones for anything OTHER than making/receiving phone calls as Apps become more easily accessible. Once an individuals has an impulse to check something they can now have it satisfied with a short sequence of taps, swipes and button presses.
There is nothing that Facebook Home can do that a standard iOS or Android Facebook app can’t do, except to take the lock and home screens of your device and give control of them to Facebook. That said, if you hardly ever use your phone for making phone calls; you don’t use Twitter, or anything else, and you “live” in Facebook then this makes sense to you. My problem is that I don’t believe this is a large number of people.
Why buy a new phone to access Facebook Home in this way if you’ve already got access to Facebook through an app on your device? Why add Facebook Home to your existing device for the same reason. People will do it - they will try it. I suspect a great many will then remove it. If it’s true that most Android users (not power users) leave their phones stock-standard then it’s unlikely it will penetrate that market very far. The highest hopes must be then for newly purchased phones in which case, how many people that are already hooked on Facebook when they are away from their desktop PCs don’t already have a smartphone with a Facebook app installed? The biggest uptake would then likely come from those users when they need to upgrade. Growth in this manner will be slow and only time their numbers will not end up being huge.
Undoubtedly Facebook has plenty of money. Doubtless they have spent a considerable amount of money already on the development of their Facebook Home interface for Android. They will not succeed or fail as a company based on the success or failure of Facebook Home and in this sense they may not care too much about its long-term future. The risk they take is that if it fails the market may recoil with claims that Facebook is failing, not moving forward and such, and it’s time to switch to the next social network: My Spacebook perhaps.
The mass market is unlikely to see large-scale adoption for a product that is so excessively focussed and omni-present as Facebook Home when using the device it’s installed on. Facebook Home is a quaint idea but in reality it subtracts flexibility from the device and enhances very little in the process.