Facebook is not the internet: why Home isn’t the new face of Android

Facebook Home

Facebook Home

Clever move by Facebook. Launching an app on Android that takes over the device and makes it a comfy home for Facebook. And to boot, they called it Facebook Home. Should Google be worried? Should anyone else be concerned for that matter? All these are pertinent questions and the advice ranges from “very”, to “not at all”, for Google and anyone else. Upfront, I am in the “not at all” camp.

Facebook Home is Facebook’s latest attempt at gaining significant relevancy, and revenue, in the mobile world. It is an admittedly clever move to make the Facebook app and ecosystem of services, from Messenger, to the timeline, front and central on some Android devices. Facebook Home is simply a clever launcher, running on top of stock Android 4.0 which in effect looks clean, graphical, and makes everyone else’s services, including some of the key Android apps, secondary.

Facebook Home immerses the user in the Facebook world, from friends and family, and all the other activities that billions around the world do on Facebook. The app focuses on the home screen called “cover feed” which will show a constant stream of full screen photos, and stories, from your Facebook timeline. It also integrates a new notification system that looks smart and intuitive and allows you to swing through a number of alerts at once.

All these so-called improvements are very interesting as Android was, in many ways, becoming more and more of an app wrapper in some ways similar to Apple’s current iOS 6.0. The lack of integration and intuitiveness of the interface is being further highlighted by the polish and people-centric interface evident in Windows Phone 8, and the flow system that we are now seeing emerging from BlackBerry with BB10. All these fresh new operating system competitors promise to take the user and make them front and centre, with differing ways of combining and highlighting user interaction. Facebook has gone one step further and focused all the interaction on itself and its services.

This may well be a valid strategy, but one that won’t set the world on fire in my opinion. There are a number of significant reasons that Facebook Home will not be as big a deal as Facebook may wish it to be.

The first and most obvious issue is that it is an Android launcher/application/programme. In the USA, which is Facebook’s home market, Android is very big, and commands a massive 53% of the smartphone market; iOS is second with 36%, as of December 2012, per comScore. At first glance, the possible market for Facebook Home is 53% of the US market. This appears to be a big target. Look closer and the truth comes out. Facebook Home is limited to one new device from HTC at launch, and is downloadable on a few top end brand new devices, such as the HTC One, and the Samsung Galaxy S4, both of which have yet to launch in the USA.

A few other are included from Facebook Home launch date of 12 April, notably the hugely successful Galaxy S III. I am sure you have noticed by now that apart from the HTC First, all the others are very high-end, possibly less than 10 % of the total market in the USA. This will allow a potential initial market of around 5.3%, and perhaps with growth up to 10% in the next few months as more devices are added. Hardly earth shattering penetration. Facebook has said it will roll out to more and more devices in the next few months and most of these will probably be lower end.

Globally, this picture is even more difficult for Facebook. Android remains the number one smartphone platform, but once again, especially in emerging markets, the distribution of high-end to low-end devices most definitely follows the 80:20 rule, with 80% of devices being low-end, and will in all probability not see Facebook Home for many years, if ever. All these devices need to upgrade to a new version of Android, as Facebook Home does not support any version of the OS before Ice Cream Sandwich. According to Google’s own revised figures as at end February 2013, Gingerbread and Honeycomb still account for over 55.1% of all Android phones in use globally. Once again, this limits the potential penetration significantly.

In emerging or developing markets such as South Africa, for example, Android’s penetration is far below that of other smartphone platforms, such as BlackBerry and Symbian. A statistic that is key to the possible uptake of Facebook Home. According to a research infographic, at the end of August 2012, BlackBerry had 46% and Symbian had 41% of the smartphone market in South Africa, with Android sitting at 11%. These may have shifted in Android’s favour by April 2013 but still highlights the issue that the potential market for Facebook Home is very small outside of the United States.

The last, and perhaps most significant nail, in the coffin of Facebook Home is user behaviour. As slick as the user interface appears, I will reserve judgment until I can try it out on my HTC One, and as friendly the clever the integration of my Facebook engagement may then be, one massive question remains.

Do I want to surrender my phone to Facebook, and side-line everything else I do? My simple answer is “No”. Research from August 2012 meanwhile shows that the number one use on a smartphone is photo/video at 83%, followed by web surfing at 79%, then email at 78%, and general search follows at 74%. Only then does social networking (that’s all social networking, mind you, not only Facebook) at 73%, line up. It is clear that people don’t only use Facebook on their smartphones.

Facebook Home is a clever use of a dominant technology, Android, but even Facebook must understand that as clever as it is, it is limited, and will in all probability only land up on a small percentage of Android devices globally. My assessment is that it will account for far less than 5% of Facebook users in 2013. This is still potentially around 50-million people, which will still make it a smashing success by any standard.

Facebook Home will not become the new face of Android in the near future, and Google really has little to worry about. Android is also looking at a whole new way of notifying and unifying people, as well as user interaction, in the next version of Android 5.0, or Key Lime Pie. Facebook, in my estimation, needs to keep looking for the magic bullet that will make them tons of mobile money.



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