The rumors that circulated before the April 4 announcement of Facebook Home were frightening. It would be a new social networking device for developing nations, said the rumormongers.
It would introduce the third-world to the wonders of social networking. I imagined what it would be like to have the entire world’s net productivity drop by the percentage of time that would be taken up by nearly constant Facebook contact.
Other rumors indicated that the new Facebook Android phone would have a version of the OS unlike any other, one that would be Facebook down to its very core. With this version, everything about you that Google already didn’t know would be known by Facebook. I imagined the impact of a Facebook vulnerability that would provide the deepest, inner-most secrets of a person’s Facebook life to the Anonymous hackers.
Then I realized that the deep, innermost life of most Facebook users would likely cause brain damage if consumed all at once and that Anonymous would probably stay away out of a sense of self-preservation.
But then Facebook Home was finally introduced. Folks, it’s just some Android apps that make Facebook ubiquitous on your phone, but nothing more. The chance of a global productivity depression was apparently overstated. The insidious spread of All Things Facebook throughout the developing world probably won’t happen. Civilization is spared—mostly.
Facebook Home is a collection of apps that when combined and installed on a compatible Android phone become a combination of middleware and a presentation layer that’s designed to make Facebook a sort of front page for your phone. A live Facebook feed will be on the front page, and so will all of your friends’ inane comments.
The long-rumored Facebook Phone is in reality the HTC First, which comes with the Facebook Home software already built in. But you don’t have to buy a new phone to get it. You can just install Facebook Home on your existing compatible Android phone.
So what makes the HTC First’s Facebook integration different from Windows Phone 8 that supposedly has Facebook deeply embedded? As far as I can tell the difference is mainly in the front page.
Both Facebook integrations are deeply integrated into their respective operating systems, but the Android version is more deeply integrated. With Windows Phone 8 you can kill Facebook if you need to stop the distraction. With Facebook Home it’s not clear that killing Facebook is possible, even temporarily.
But then there’s the larger question of who needs it? And the related question is will it sell? The answer to the first question is that nobody needs Facebook Home. The answer to the second is that it will certainly sell.
Facebook Home Will Prove Addictive Only to the Socially Obsessed
Who will buy it? You probably already know the answer to this. Now that the iPhone is no longer cool, those millions of teens slathering to be even more closely wired into the social landscape will think it’s the best thing since Justin Bieber. The phone will sell like hotcakes. Teens will be Facebooking with their friends even as they skip their homework and forget their research papers to spend their time being social.
So how is this different from the social networking they’re already doing? For the most part it’s not. Facebook has an app for virtually every mobile platform ever built and for phones that can’t run apps it’s got browser-based options. There’s even a version of Facebook for feature phones called Facebook Zero (0.facebook.com) that exists as a text-only edition of Facebook.
What’s really different is that by taking over the front page of your phone, Facebook gets a favored position that will tend to increase the use of Facebook in contrast to other social networking sites. After all, your Facebook feed is front and center, so you’re looking at that first and last. Everything else requires moving past the Facebook front page and running another app. Think of it as a form of friction that keeps you stuck to Facebook.
Facebook, meanwhile, reduces that friction by being omnipresent. Facebook messages will flow, no matter what else you’re doing. By creating the Facebook middleware, the company has effectively introduced a level of multitasking so that your other apps keep running, but so does Facebook. In other words, you have the multitasking from Hell.
But there’s a limited market for an omnipresent Facebook. Nobody is going to want to use this phone for business, and most people who aren’t Facebook addicts will not want the constant social feed.
What this means is that Facebook Home, with or without the special HTC hardware, is only going to appeal to those teens or twenty-somethings who can’t live without the service. These are the obsessed people who are already on Facebook all the time. The new phone or new app just ties these people ever more tightly to Facebook.
Whether this is a good thing is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, it makes me want to quickly uninstall the Facebook app from my phone. But then I’m hardly Facebook Home’s target customer.