Last week saw the introduction of Facebook Home, Mark Zuckerberg’s latest ploy to make Facebook an increasingly integral part of everyday life. And while Zuckerberg maintains that “we’re not building a phone and we’re not building an operating system”, Lance Ulinoff of Mashable believes this claim to be more than a little “disingenuous”. Facebook Home effectively fulfils the functionality of both a phone and an OS; it does, after all, essentially turn an Android handset into a Facebook-first device, keeping users logged in and integrated no matter what other apps or features they may be using.
Facebook Home is still very much an experiment at present, as evidenced by its “slow rollout” in the US, and by its limited availability – it can only be found on the HTC First handset. Ulinoff posits that the pricing and interface of the HTC First would position the “hyper-socially aware teen” as the ideal Facebook Home user, a theory which lines up when you consider that Facebook has been steadily losing traction with its younger user base.
If this is the case, the success of Facebook Home hinges on whether or not a newer, trendier social network will pop up and poach the interest (and cash) of this fad-obsessed demographic, if in fact it is not already too late. With the proliferation of apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and staples like iMessage and BBM, teens are faced with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing a method of staying connected.
So if the kids are off the table, who does that leave? Early adopters and digital influencers are just as passionate about their Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts as they are about Facebook – and they are also more likely to manage their social presence under a flagship-branded device (think Apple or Samsung).
Pete Pachal believes that Facebook may have missed a trick by piloting Facebook Home in the States when the concept is more suited to emerging markets. He cites Indonesia as a prime region, where Facebook is used by up to 80% of the population but smartphone penetration is at a lowly 20%. Says Pachal: “An affordable phone that’s Facebook-centric is almost a no-brainer for that market.”
Facebook Home is unlikely to go down in the social history books as a genuine game changer, but it’s far too early to dismiss it entirely. Whether it will be remembered as an interesting experiment in network-and-platform integration or simply as a rare misstep by Zuckerberg & Co. remains to be seen.