Facebook Home: Good for Users and Android; Bad for Google and Business
by Mike Anderson
There has been an amazing level of speculation and hype about Facebook introducing their own mobile smartphone. Even though Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly denied that making the phone hardware either made sense for Facebook, or aligned with its business strategy, the rumor mills persisted. With its announcement of Home today, Facebook has put the rumors to rest. For now.
What is Facebook Home? It is essentially a new UI shell riding on top of Android, providing a new lock screen, a new home screen, a new means to handle messages and notifications, and an app organizer and launcher. Instead of a Facebook phone, Home lets an Android phone become a Facebook phone. You get Facebook even when the phone is on the lock screen, and Home provides a slick and easy to use way to organize and launch your Android apps.
Free from Google Play on April 12th, and pre-loaded on the new HTC First phone on AT&T for $99.99 on the same date, Home does not provide an ad channel. But it certainly will. And with the planned monthly updates set for Home, Facebook is likely to bring that element to life quickly.
Facebook Home is Good for Users
For Facebook fans, and there are a few hundred million, Home presents a simple and engaging interface for messages, photos and the newsfeed as the new home screen via Cover Feed. New messages come as immediately accessible interruptions in Chat Heads, where the icon delivered is the sender’s cover photo. Interactions are simple swipes and clicks, and the resulting access to the content does not require closing the current app and starting another. Home presents an overlay screen, and allows the user to drop back into the interrupted app when done with the interaction.
Facebook Home is Good for Android
The Home UI and overall experience is smooth, engaging and will be attractive for people who spend hours of their day in Facebook keeping up with their friends. Home is presently only available for Android, and Home turns the phone into a Facebook phone. The Launcher is also an improvement over static pages of apps, and the seamless experience in Home adds positively to the Android UI.
Facebook Home is Bad for Google
With Home, Facebook disintermediates Google from the primary interactions users will make with their phone from the home screen. Facebook is planning monthly updates to Home, and we should expect to see improvements in the Facebook experience but also expanding functionality. Android becomes a processing engine for the Home user interface, where Facebook-centric users will hang out. In addition, Facebook will be the primary beneficiary of searches and ad revenues, not Google. While the threat to Google is real, since Android is an open system this is a natural result.
Facebook Home is Bad for Enterprises
Facebook is one of the most frequently blacklisted apps for enterprises deploying mobile management software. There are many reasons, from productivity issues to security and hacking threats. With Facebook as an app, the rest of the Android experience and apps can still be enabled when Facebook is disabled at work. With Home as the primary point of interaction for the user, blocking Facebook at work affects the entire user experience for Android devices using Home. One of the primary goals of enterprise mobile management, especially for BYOD, is to leave the user experience as unaffected as possible. With Home, the effect will be felt.
Facebook is able to turn Android phones into Facebook phones using Home because Android is open. During the Q&A for the announcement Mark Zuckerberg hit this point squarely when speaking about iOS: “Anything that happens with Apple is going to happen with partnership. Google’s Android is open so we don’t have to work with them.” Don’t look for the same approach of hijacking the phone’s identity with iOS. Likely not with Windows or BlackBerry 10 either. However, an app with the engaging Facebook Home UI does seem more plausible, but likely only if Facebook is able to monetize ads or other content.