Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was very careful during the unveiling of Facebook Home to say that his company is not “forking” Android. He was referring to the language many use to describe Amazon’s Kindle Fire line, for which the company completely skinned the entire OS with its own interface and forced buyers to use its own app store. Facebook Home is different, but it’s both a blessing and a curse for Google.
Facebook Home is a download that will replace the standard lock screen, home screen and app launcher on existing Android phones from HTC and Samsung. This overlay certainly has a lighter touch than Amazon’s because you can still access the Google Play store and its more than 700,000 apps. Plus, users can always choose to uninstall Home. However, this announcement is a double-edged sword for Google. Here’s why.
Facebook’s reminded the world just how closed iOS is. Apple’s tight control over its hardware and software ecosystem has some benefits when it comes to stability and performance, but the mere existence of Facebook Home reinforces the fact that iOS is not customizable enough. Sure, you can move icons around and create folders, but that’s about it. In fact, the Google Play store has dozens of launchers and widgets that let you do more with your phone.
During Facebook’s press event, Zuckerberg said he wants to get Facebook Home software on every device, reminding reporters that the company has “a great relationship with Apple.” Right now, though, that just sounds like lip service, especially since the CEO said a few moments earlier that Android’s openness made Facebook Home possible. Unless iOS 7 is radically different than what came before it, I don’t see anyone attempting something like Facebook Home on Apple’s platform.
Facebook Home is good for Google also because it speaks to the sheer variety of Android-based hardware options available to shoppers. While I don’t think the $99 HTC First is going to be a hit, the first smartphone with Facebook Home preloaded, it gives Google another weapon in its arsenal against the iPhone. Devices like the First will give incentive for some to look away from the Galaxy S4 at a time that Samsung is growing more powerful by the day. Samsung has even decided to create its own mobile browser in partnership with Mozilla.
On the other hand, Google can’t be happy about the fact that Facebook Home hijacks the home screen and lock screen for its OS. Millions of people will download this app-on-steroids come April 12th, diving further into Facebook. Meanwhile, Google Plus is forced to watch from the sidelines. The Cover Feed displays updates only from Facebook and Instagram, which already takes up 25 percent of our time on phones.
It gets worse. As you use applications, Chat Heads from Facebook will pop up on your screen as you receive messages (or texts). And these heads will follow you until you act on the alert. Google Plus won’t get this sort of persistent treatment. Facebook will literally be in people’s faces.
There’s an even bigger worry here for Google. The company counts on Android phone and tablet owners to use its services in order to make ad revenue, and detouring folks to Facebook will leave less money on the table for the search giant.
Bottom Line: Facebook Home demonstrates why Android became the dominant mobile platform: sheer flexibility. However, the very openness of Google’s platform could result in a sizable decrease in mobile revenue.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter and Google+.