As soon as Facebook unveiled Home for Android, the online tech media was quick to dissect it into tiny bits and pieces, not without a hefty amount of criticism, most of which coming from people who don’t use Facebook (or those who simply quit, or claim to have quit, the social network).
Without trying to send out any criticism of my own, I found that plenty of tech bloggers were a bit quick to forget that Facebook is the biggest social network out there, and despite the fact that Google Plus is now an important player in the market, Facebook is currently showing no sign of decline.
To me, Facebook and Android make for one hell of a combination if, somehow, these two tech giants could collaborate for a single, unified experience that encapsulates both the Facebook philosophy on mobile social networking, but Google Play compatibility as well. Oh wait, they just did!
Throughout this article, I will try to analyze the potential impact Facebook Home could make in the Android ecosystem, and not enter any discussion about the product or its features. I will also avoid talking about the security related concerns that Facebook Home has raised.
I will also intentionally avoid discussing the HTC First, the only smartphone announced this far to come with Facebook Home preinstalled, mainly because I believe Facebook Home’s potential success or failure has absolutely nothing to do with what appears to be a mid-range Android smartphone at best. I may be going off the limb here a bit, but could it be that the only reason why the HTC First exists is because Facebook needed to heed pre-launch rumors? Could it be that Facebook had to tap into the hype such rumors have created around a potential Facebook phone?
In consequence, the purpose of this opinion piece is to point out a few factors that might change in the smartphone ecosystem now that Facebook has specifically targeted Google’s ecosystem with Home on Android. If you’re looking to find out what the rest of the team here at Android Authority thinks of Facebook Home, you can read our more recent Friday Debate on the matter.
On how Android just dodged a bullet
The possibility of a Facebook smartphone has been so intensely debated and rumored over the past couple of years that everyone seemed to agree that if Facebook were to release a smartphone, it would be running a forked version of Android, much like the Amazon Kindle Fire.
In addition to that, one train of thought that’s popular amongst online pundits is that more and more device manufacturers will start looking into the possibility of forking Android so that they’re able to stand out in the crowd.
But following the Facebook Home announcement, it is my opinion that the Android ecosystem has not only eliminated this theoretical threat, but it has further cemented its position at the top of the mobile ecosystem.
Were Facebook to fork Android, I believe it would have been a clear sign for the rest of the industry that forking is the only way to go if you wanted to stand out. Fortunately for the market as a whole, Facebook Home is clear proof that unneeded fragmentation can be avoided by creating software that works on top of Android, instead of eliminating all compatibility for the sake of being unique.
Android vs iOS: a Facebook Timeline
For as long as the Facebook app has been an important component of any smartphone, Android users found themselves envying iPhone users for the quality and responsiveness of their Facebook implementation. The basic interface was roughly the same on both iOS and Android, but it is just that the dedicated app for Android were not as smooth. As a consequence, Facebook was not a major factor when deciding to go for an iPhone or for an Android smartphone.
Now that Facebook has unveiled Facebook Home for Android, the situation has dramatically changed, as Android now offers a much more immersive — and hopefully much smoother — implementation. This might not matter a lot to those of us who are not exactly complete Facebook addicts, but you’ve got to admit that there are a lot of people who use Facebook as the primary function of their smartphone. In my opinion, all those people will now have one extra reason to choose Android over iOS.
In addition, due to the closed nature of iOS, Facebook Home will not be coming to the iPhone or iPad anytime soon, as iOS does not support custom launchers. Bottom line: Facebook has just become one (if not the most) powerful Android ally.
Facebook Home on Windows Phone, Blackberry 10
When talking about the reason Facebook opted for a custom launcher instead of a forked version of Android, Mark Zuckerberg wanted traction. He argued that targeting just a few million users is of no importance for Facebook on the long run. To me, this speaks clearly about the fact that Facebook Home is unlikely to arrive on either Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10 — two mobile operating systems that together amount for only a fraction of the Android user base.
Custom launchers have been one of the main reasons why more tech-savvy users prefer Android. But as it turns out, the vast majority of Android users are complete strangers to the notion of a custom launcher, mainly due to the fact that these custom launchers are more of an enthusiast thing instead of a profitable niche at this point.
Now, the huge fan base that Facebook has, combined with the tight grip Android has over the smartphone market, will eventually translate into a large number of users who will install Facebook Home as their first custom launcher for Android. And once users start understanding the awesome concept of a custom launcher, I believe that custom launcher developers will start writing more and better custom launchers since they will soon have a larger users base to target.
What I’m really trying to say here is that custom launchers will become much more popular, and thus a real advantage in the market for Google, and not just another paragraph in “top 10 reasons Android is better than iOS” articles.
Android already has a lot of inertia, although it also seemed like there was a lack of impact-making software that’s available exclusively for Google’s mobile platform. I’m not saying that Home is the best thing that happened to Android in the past year, but love it or hate it, the concept will surely make a lot of impact on the market.
Is Facebook Home just another custom launcher for Android? Will be a success, or will it flop? We are aware that the prevailing opinion on Facebook as a social network is not entirely positive. But wouldn’t you agree that Facebook Home makes for a great synergy between Android and Facebook?