Facebook Home, its subtle impact and what it means to Facebook

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Facebook Home, its subtle impact and what it means to Facebook
No doubt that if you are a user of Facebook in any capacity, you have experienced the phenomenon of “Facebook fatigue.” The symptoms manifest themselves in various ways, but it generally means you stop using the social network for a while or just do not participate in the activities your friends are yammering on about in the news feed.

Since about half of the traffic feeding in and out of Facebook is mobile, the fatigue is just as prevalent, especially if all you get for a while are invitations to play some game or add a birthday or join in some event 3,000 miles away. Notifications get cleared with a “meh” and then it is on to other things.

Credit where credit is due

Regardless of your initial impressions of Home, it is hard to dispute that Facebook did things right the first go around of Home. The first reason is obvious, Facebook did not get into the manufacturing business. Not only is the notion not even a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, “service first” (or only) companies do not have a heavy talent pool to delve into the depths of the logistics involved in manufacturing and supply chain management. Even with Google, we have not really seen the first fruits of products since its acquisition of Motorola (the RAZR series are all clearly products of “work in progress” when the merger closed last May). The Nexus line have all been produced by established manufacturers and if anything, Google’s own services were challenged to the hilt in handling demand for the latest Nexus 4.

Facebook also did it right by not trying to build a new operating system. This needs little explanation and just about everyone understands why Android was the chosen platform to get things done. Not only is the open source nature of Android a natural choice from a design standpoint, its current dominance in the global market will eventually provide the highest potential for success and market penetration. Facebook was also wise in not “forking” Android and making a Facebook phone (whether they made it or not) akin to Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. The challenges of keeping things up to date and pursuing carrier testing would have put Facebook’s efforts in areas the company does not want to go.

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Finally, while Facebook Home is not packed with every function that the stand-alone Facebook application has, the simplicity behind the immersive experience is “big
enough” to generate interest in the application.

Will Facebook Home make a difference in the near term?

This answer is fairly obvious, no. However that appears to be by design. The initial rollout will be in the United States only. Given that about half of the US smartphone user base is on Android, that gives a more than sufficient user pool for a first run. Since Home will only work on newer Android devices, HTC One, One X, One X+, HTC First, Samsung Galacy SIII, S4 and Note II, the final “eligible” pool of users will be notably smaller, but still many millions-of-users big.

Even though Facebook Home will not appeal to everyone, the company again did it right to deploy it and see how things will work in its own back yard. As there will be app updates every month, that puts Facebook in position to see how updates and enhancements are accepted within the large “control group.”

All may not be rosy however

While the final product of Facebook Home is positioned for success, there are a few gnawing issues that are yet to be addressed. The first is data usage. How much data does Home use to provide that fine assortment of content on a continuous basis? If it cuts through data like Paula Deen cuts through butter, then users will not live too long with Home if they cannot afford a data plan to accommodate it. Then there is battery life, a valid concern with any Android device already, will Home drink the power supply dry in order to keep the immersion experience up-to-date? We suspect this may not be as big of an issue. During the press event, HTC and AT&T were pretty explicit about battery life with the HTC First. Given its middle-of-the-road specifications, and 2,000mAh battery, you would expect decent battery life, and the specifications listed on AT&T’s website offer 14 hours of talk time and 18 days of standby time. That is not bad all things considered. Based on that, it would be reasonable to expect that Facebook Home will not obliterate your battery or data plan.

Then there may be some new ways to look at privacy concerns.  Facebook has managed to keep itself from being under conspicuous regulator scrutiny, but the company does seem to update privacy policies often, and quietly.  Will Home give Facebook more of that insight to the inner thinking of your mind or will it be the same game as found with users on the traditional apps and website?  As far as we can tell, this app will evolve enough to enable ads to be pushed to Cover Flow that are relevant to your interests which arguably puts Home in the same arena as Google.  Right now, we do not know, however, we expect that folks will dissect Home to see what data is gathered and reported back to servers.  Until then we have no reason to expect that this will actually do more than what Facebook itself already does. 

What about the HTC First exclusivity on AT&T? Arguably that would limit the exposure that Facebook ultimately wants for Home and the rest of Facebook for that matter. HTC is a hungry member of this trio. The company builds solid hardware but has been losing traction with its product line for a while. The Taiwan based manufacturer was wise not to let its flagship HTC One fall into any exclusivity agreements. That in itself lessens the sting when it comes to the HTC First, but not totally. It is feasible to expect that customers on other carriers would be interested in such a device, but again, the HTC First is more about HTC than it is Facebook. The HTC First embeds Home at a system level, enabling some notifications that will not be seen on other devices that use the app.  There is not much that differentiates the device, although we can tell you that it is well made.

However, AT&T’s last attempts with previous “Facebook” phones, all made by HTC were not successful, so why continue? We can only surmise that AT&T is simply willing to take the risk. It may prove to be the better option for HTC too, since trying to launch this device with Verizon poses its own challenges, like Big Red’s excruciating process to approve OS and OEM updates.

Longer term, Home will make an impact

We have no doubt that Home will find a dedicated user base in every market it is released. We believe however that the “money” for Facebook (and HTC for that matter) will be in the emerging markets. Facebook is already offering incentives and data discounts to encourage subscribers to use Facebook Messenger in fourteen countries, some still developing, and others more established.

By making those moves early in countries that are still expanding their networks and customer base, Facebook becomes an enabling communication product that will be sought after. That is where we think Home’s biggest potential lies, India, Indonesia and other parts of the Pacific Rim and then again in established European countries like Italy, Ireland and Portugal. Not surprisingly, that poses an opportunity for HTC as well if the First does not suffer any serious problems after its debut in the US.

So there it is, Facebook Home will certainly be a far reaching product, but its impact is far more subtle in the near-term. If the updates and innovation enhance the experience then it poses the obvious benefits to Facebook and presents some interesting challenges to Google and other platforms as well.

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