Facebook Home: First Things First
Yesterday came the exciting announcement from Palo Alto that Facebook were moving deeper into mobile, with the launch of the Facebook phone – kind of. Mark Zuckerberg’s company is not launching a phone per se, but rather a skinned version of Android known as Facebook Home, which replaces the Android interface with Facebook’s own interface. Facebook Home doesn’t go as far as, for instance, Amazon, whose Kindle products run a forked version of Android meaning Amazon have to build their own devices and operating systems. No, as Facebook stressed, the skinned version simply means a new set of apps become your home and lock screen, and features such as Cover Feed and Chat Heads become available on your device. This is Facebook’s attempt to move away from the app-centric world to a more people-centric world; the UI will focus instead on people, photos and messages. Indeed, Cover Feed means that whenever a device is powered up a user will see a non-stop flow of photos, status updates and other Facebook content. Chat Heads allows users to send and receive messages whilst they are in a separate app.
HTC will be the first OEM to carry Facebook Home as the default interface on its HTC First device, which will be distributed by AT&T, however Facebook have also claimed that Samsung, Sony, Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo and Alcatel One Touch are also interested in partnering with them. Owners of the HTC One range of phones, and Samsung’s Galaxy S3, S4 and Note 2 will also be able to download Facebook Home from Google Play or their Facebook App on April 12th. France Telecom-Orange has announced that they will shortly be launching the HTC First in the UK and France shortly.
So what are Facebook trying to do, exactly, with the launch of this customisation? They already have half a billion worldwide users, who spend on average 30 minutes per day on Facebook’s mobile app. Clearly, Facebook’s primary revenues come from advertising, and by installing Facebook Home on their device, this enables Facebook to collect further data about which apps they’re using, where they’re using them, and what they’re doing. This, combined with the Cover Feed will significantly bolster Facebook’s value proposition to advertisers. Imagine if a Facebook knew you were at an airport, visiting a website about healthy eating at midday? Ping – an advert straight to your home screen about the new smoothie restaurant which has opened up in the departure lounge; of course I am assuming that Facebook will begin to place adverts in their Cover Feed, which they do not yet do.
My initial concern, though, on finding out about Facebook Home though, was do people actually want it? Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that Facebook won’t be able to launch it on iOS unless they first collaborate with Apple, which means a large number of potential users won’t be able to install Facebook Home. Furthermore, with privacy concerns, particularly on Facebook itself, at such a high, will people want a service which could be deemed especially intrusive? No, as far as I can see an interface which will drain my phone’s battery life, eat into my data allowance and annoy me by forcing my “friends” status updates on me just won’t take off. Thanks Facebook, but I’ll stick with the app.