A Game of Phones
Last week, Facebook unveiled Facebook Home, a brand new approach to mobile that is designed around people instead of apps. Facebook Home is not a “Facebook Phone”, at least not in the same way that the iPhone is an “Apple Phone”. Instead, Facebook home is a launcher – which is essentially an app capable of customising the look and feel of any Android device.
The thinking behind Facebook Home is brilliant. Through Facebook Home, Facebook is extending its reach beyond its traditional mobile app and integrating its services directly into the UI of potentially millions of Android phones around the world. All without ever having to design ship or sell a single mobile device.
Ironically, this feat is only possible on Android, a mobile operating system owned by one of Facebook’s main rivals, Google. In addition to this, Android is also the world’s most popular mobile operating system and continues to sell well in both developing and developed markets alike.
Judging from a variety of hands-on videos, Facebook Home seems to be a highly polished product. It is beautifully designed, fun to play with and even a little whimsical. But despite everything it has going for it, Facebook Home will need to accomplish some pretty big things if it is going to be considered a successful product.
The first thing it will need to do is help make Facebook more money off of mobile. Over the past few years, Facebook have had to aggressively transform itself into a mobile first company. Over 50% of users access Facebook from mobile devices but only 23% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from mobile ads.
Facebook Home is expected to eventually incorporate some form of advertising which may put some people off. If done correctly, these ads might even add value and make Facebook Home an even more compelling product. But until we actually see these ads, all we can do is speculate.
Another challenge Facebook needs to overcome is that, for some, Facebook is becoming less relevant. This is particularly true amongst younger users who have recently been switching to other services like Twitter, Tumblr and Snap Chat. It’s no secret that there is also a large group of people who are only on Facebook because everyone they know is on Facebook. They use the service begrudgingly and more exposure to Facebook would probably do more harm than good.
Another problem Facebook has is data. This may come as a shock as Facebook probably knows more about you than any other company in the world. As pointed out by The Verge in their early review of Graph Search, Facebook’s other new product from earlier this year, the data collected by Facebook is great for targeting ads but offers very little value for users in the real world. In order to fix this, Facebook needs to change the way we use their social network, which may be more effort than it’s worth.
But despite the challenges it has to overcome, Facebook Home is exciting. Whether it succeeds or fails, it is part of a massive shift that is taking place in mobile. In the past, mobile was all about apps. With Facebook Home, Facebook is going beyond the app. Google will no doubt try take this one step further later this year as they try go beyond the phone with Project Glass. Apple and just about every other tech company are reportedly working on smart watches and other forms of wearable computers.
Make no mistake about it. 2013 will be an exciting year for mobile.