Today Facebook announced the long rumored Facebook phone. While HTC and Facebook did team up to create the world’s first Facebook phone, the HTC First, the Facebook phone is also the phone already in your pocket – well, if you have an Android phone.
Instead of competing with Google by forking Android (similar to what Amazon did with their Kindle tablets), Facebook decided to leverage the large Android user base by creating its own Facebook Home. Facebook Home is a launcher that will change the way you interact with your phone. Instead of multiple pages of widgets and apps, Facebook Home will have full screen photos from your Facebook friends along with status updates. It’s not only the homescreen that is changed by the new Facebook Home, but also your lockscreen. With Facebook Home, Facebook is hoping to put all of your favorite Facebook content front and center. Instead of launching the Facebook app, you’re basically already IN the app. In essence, Facebook has flipped around the way you use your phone.
Don’t worry though, all of your favorite apps from Google’s Play Store – your phone (people still make phone calls?), favorite browser, Gmail, Google Maps, Instagram, and games – will still be accessible, but they’ll be tucked in tightly behind some awkward controls. In order to access your apps, you’ll have to gently swipe up from your circular profile picture that is hovering in the lower center part of the screen. Much like Microsoft with Windows 8, people looking to dive into Facebook Home will need to relearn how to operate their phones.
There are some good things about Facebook Home. For one, Facebook Home does provide you with rich content from (hopefully) people who matter to you. In addition, it seamlessly integrates Facebook services such as messenger with your typical phone text messaging services through what Facebook has termed Chat Heads. I’m sure Facebook Home will also take advantage of Facebook’s recent calling feature. Not only that, but Facebook Home will have monthly updates that will hopefully bolster the launcher’s functionality beyond static pictures and Facebook functions (Like and Comment from your homescreen). As it stands, widgets from other apps are not usable with Facebook Home nor are other app icons – they’re all hidden away. The rapid update schedule should also help Facebook Home reach more handsets than the limited number of phones it will currently support when it launches on April 12: HTC First, Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, Note 2, and HTC One, One X, and One X+. Surprisingly, Google’s popular Nexus line of devices is absent as well as Motorola’s RAZR line up. Facebook hopes to extend their Facebook Home to more devices running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) and up, including tablets.
While all of this sounds good, who even wants Facebook Home? Perhaps the power Facebook users will jump at the chance of having Facebook front and center whenever they turn on their device, but I feel most people use their phones for more than Facebook and have no problem opening the Facebook app. Facebook Home basically neuters your Android phone by forcing users to do everything through the lens of Facebook. Facebook Home strips the ability for users to get quick information from other apps through the app’s widgets on the homescreen. Not only that, but Facebook Home essentially destroys the ability to customize your homescreen, a hallmark feature of Android (although I must acknowledge that the beauty of Android is the openness and the choice to use something like Facebook Home). In addition, users of Facebook Home will need to learn how to use Facebook Home, which shouldn’t be too hard, but it’s not exactly intuitive either. Finally, what I think is the final nail in the coffin, is that Facebook Home will eventually be home to ADS as well. Expect your favorite advertisements to invade your homescreen as Facebook tries to extend its ad model to mobile.
Is one service so strong that it should commandeer the entire phone? No. This is another attempt by Facebook to be relevant and failing. Facebook Home is not the panacea that will attract younger users back. It simply continues Facebook’s mediocrity.