Facebook's Home gambit

23 Apr 2013

As featured on TM Forum's the Insider blog

Forgive me if I sound confused but I was under the impression that the Android mobile operating system was feature-packed and simple to use. Wasn’t that the reason it has become one of the world’s most popular smartphone drivers, along with Apple’s iOS?

Well, not according to the ‘head of the social networking realm’, Lord Zuckerberg. Despite persistent rumors that he was going to release a Facebook handphone onto an unsuspecting market he snuck in Facebook Home instead, a sort of wrapper for Android that makes you think, for all intents and purposes, that you actually have a Facebook phone. Go figure.

“We’re going to turn your Android phone into a great, simple, social device,” said Zuckerberg. Oh, so what do I have now, an archaic Android smartphone that is rendered useless without a Home? If I want to access Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any other social network I have an app for that. Why would I want something, and especially something from Facebook, to take over the way I use my device.

Apparently, key Home features include Cover Feed, essentially a home page presenting apps and media. “As soon as you turn on your phone, you see a visually-rich News Feed that automatically slides from story to story,” as explained by Facebook Product Designer Adam Mosseri. Again, why would I want that when the existing OS and apps like Flipboard. do it so well already?

Non-leading smartphone maker, HTC has jumped on the bandwagon and launched its First device preloaded with Home. I’ll be taking that one off my Christmas list! HTC must be assuming that this will boost its flagging sales and well it might, in the short term. HTC made its mark in the early Windows Mobile era when it provided all sorts of ‘skins’ to disguise the sub-par OS that resided beneath, so I guess it has some experience already.

What may me be the scariest part of all this Home malarkey is that all content and apps ‘within Home’ immediately become available when users launch their Android device: “There are no swipes or gestures—everything is already loaded on your phone while your device is sleeping,” Zuckerberg said. “All the interactions are really smooth and natural. We wanted this to feel like system software, instead of just an app you run.”

Are alarm bells ringing yet? Facebook is going to do things to your phone ‘while you are sleeping!’ That’s almost as scary as using Facebook as an identity manager and using it to log onto third party services. Of course, this is simply a thinly veiled conspiracy to make money out of you, isn’t it? Zuckerberg and company have made it patently obvious that they see the mobile device as the future of Facebook and that means they have to make money from it. While the program will not initially have advertising, Zuckerberg said promotions will be included in future updates.

As CNN Money points out: “Back in 2010 Mark Zuckerberg made a very bad decision. Instead of building separate apps for iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, Nokia devices, and, yes, even Microsoft phones, he put his engineers to work designing a version of Facebook that could operate on any smartphone.”

Just six years after it had been founded, Facebook was missing the next big shift in technology – mobiles. But that has all changed now. “Home is much more than just another product release. It is Facebook's opening salvo in the battle for dominance on the mobile web.” No doubt , Google is firmly in Facebook’s sights as well.

However, Zuckerberg’s master plan may be in jeopardy if a report in Bloomberg Businessweek is any indication. One of his key demographics has fallen precipitously since this time last year. It seems that teens are growing tired of Facebook and they “make up an $819 billion consumer segment, and the social media chatter about brands—positive or negative—is an increasingly large influence on their purchasing decisions.”

No doubt, the more commercial Facebook becomes (and it has to in order to placate its shareholders) the less attractive it will be to its core audience. That could be Facebook’s next big challenge – staying relevant and staying in business.

The Insider is written by TM Forum's Market Strategist, Tony Poulos.

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