This past week saw the formal entrance of Facebook into the mobile wars…..with a skin for Android.
For a few years now rumors of a Facebook branded phone have circulated. Given that Facebook has been building up an app ecosystem, email service, and credit system it seemed inevitable. Well Thursday Facebook did unveil their “phone” and “platform” except it was Android.
Facebook Home is in many ways the perfect representation of the company itself; it’s not a separate ecosystem but a thin skin that sits on top of one. Home is essentially one of the nicest launcher skins you can see on a device it replaces the regular Android start screen with its own called Cover feed. Cover feed shows you Facebook updates and information in slideshow a user can flick through. Cover feed also shows you notifications from the home screen and allows you to flick them away similar to Windows Mobile and Palm Pre. The second big feature Home has is its messenger service called Chat heads. Chat heads is a pervasive service, accessible from anywhere in Home, linking together SMS and Facebook messaging in a unified view. Home also provides a customized launcher for your applications.
Facebook Home from a purely visual standpoint is nice. The UI seems to borrow from things like WebOS and even the Microsoft Kin (some features are similar to the Kin’s Spot and the use of circles in the UI). As stated earlier its one of the nicest skins for Android I’ve seen. Home is another example of the new trend in minimalist or “flat” design in user interface design; relying less on traditional elements and more on gestures and direct touch. The decision makes sense given that Facebook isn’t actually trying to make a real OS but simply sit atop Android.
The decision to build Home into Android and the way Facebook did is fascinating. Home is really a fork of Android in the way Amazon created the Fire; if more passive aggressive. It continues the battle between the two companies over the web; with the award being control over ad space, information, and traffic.In the year of Facebook going public the company has faced questions about what next in terms of growth and also its mobile ambitions. Home seems to answer. Home solves some of Facebook’s issues with mobile by given a place to call its own. Facebook Home is an interesting gambit because its not really tied to a specific hardware.
Now there is the HTC First which is the Facebook phone, but its not essential to what Home is trying to accomplish. Home is about Facebook keeping users under their umbrella and not about hardware. However lest you think they forgot hardware is important; Facebook does have a list of hardware vendors and carriers.
While Home has premiered to positive press and the usual proclamations of victory over its enemies; it will still have to answer some questions.Will Facebook Home be the start of Facebook formally forking Android? Remember Facebook has its own little app ecosystem and it will be interesting how they incorporate it into Home. What does Home mean for Facebook users on other platforms? As much as Facebook and the tech press may wish to view Home as this new platform, its still an app. Given the amount of work done will any of Home show up on iOS, Windows, or even the web version?
In many ways Facebook Home was a good strategic choice by Zuckerberg and company but time will tell if it was successful.