Facebook Home a threat to Google Search, Google+ and other services on Android?

April 4, 2013
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Facebook Home Android Screenshots (24)

Facebook’s Home user interface for Android devices may just be one of the smartest moves done by the social network in mobile, as the new UI does away with Google’s Search app from regular Android home screens and will feature Facebook’s own ads at some point in the future. Not to mention that it could affect other Google services in the future, especially Google+.

In other words, Home may not a sure bet, and it may not even pay off in the end, but it’s definitely an attack against Google worth following.

Without forking Android like Amazon has, Facebook is still in a position in which it challenges Google’s core business, search and advertising, by attempting to take over the lock screen and home screen of Android mobile devices with its own apps built into the Home UI.

Google Search

TechCrunch points out that Home actively replaces the Google Search app on most Android devices, with users having either to go to the browser for their online searches or to switch launchers (which is entirely possible) to go to the Search app. It would appear, though, that Google Search is still there on the HTC First, the first Android handset that will ship with Home preloaded, but the app would disappear from the Home screens on those devices that will get Home from Google Play.

HTC First Facebook Home 1

Google Search is not removed from the phone during the Facebook Home installation, and Facebook would never get away with doing such a thing, but Facebook is apparently simply placing an obstacle in front of Google’s mobile Search app. Would that hurt Google ad-based revenue in the future?

How long until Facebook will somehow include a more advanced search of its own in the Home UI? After all, Facebook wants to bring new features to Home on a monthly basis, and it has already made its first baby steps into the Search business.

Mobile Ads

As for mobile ads, The Verge says that Facebook has confirmed via its main man Mark Zuckerberg that ads are in the picture for the future. Home will not ship with ads at launch, but the feature will arrive later down the road, described as just “another type of content,” that would hit one’s Cover Feed.

This is sort-of similar to what Amazon is doing in its forked Android environment, the difference being that if you agree to be served Amazon ads, you also get to buy a cheaper Amazon device.

Facebook Home Android Screenshots (18)

Comparatively, Facebook may end up serving ads on your phone without you getting any sort of discount on that phone or tablet (in the future). We’ll have to note though that we’re only speculating at this point on how ads on Facebook Home would work, as we have no way of knowing in advance what Facebook’s advertising policy for Home will be.

On its part, Google isn’t putting ads directly on the Home screen. But through its Search features, other services and even third-party apps, Google ads are presented in one way or another to Android users, and Google walks off with more and more money each year off of mobile search.

But what will happen if Facebook Home does become a popular UI for some Android device owners who won’t mind having to go an extra step to search for stuff online or see mobile ads on their lock screens?

Other UIs and bloatware

Facebook’s Home won’t only replace Android home screens but it could also interfere with other proprietary user interfaces for Android, not to mention third-party content from carriers that inevitably gets preloaded on Android smartphones.

Facebook announced that a variety of Android OEMs as well as mobile operators are willing to work with the social network to launch Android devices with support for Home.

Facebook Home Android Screenshots 1 (9)

But what does exactly mean? Will OEMs preload future handsets with Home? Are they going to give up their own user interfaces they built on top of Android to simply replace it with Facebook’s UI?

What about carrier bloatware that gets preloaded on Android devices? Won’t carriers mind the fact that their apps will be buried in a sea of Facebook apps? Or will they turn Home into an asset, bringing targeted ads to their subscribers via Facebook?

And then there’s Google+

One of Facebook’s biggest rivals in the social networking game right now is Google’s Google+, so what better way to deal a blow to Google’s social network than by placing a Facebook-filled environment on top of Android?

Sure, Home does include an app launcher that will let users quickly launch any apps they desire, Google+ included. But with so many Facebook apps included in Home, and so many ways to interact with their Facebook friends, won’t they, in time, forget about Google+, or at least become less active?

Facebook Home Android Screenshots (23)

The numbers are not in Google’s favor when it comes to this social battle. Facebook has topped 1 billion users as of September 2012, with more than half of them using the service on mobile devices. Comparatively, Google+ has over 500 million users (235 million active on a monthly basis) as of December 2012.

Meanwhile, over 750 million Android devices have been activated to date, and the number will most likely pass 800 million by the end of the year.

Since both Google and Facebook make their money mainly from mobile advertising, they both need to be able to serve targeted ads to consumers, and thus their social networks are a way of getting the job done. The larger the active user base for each network, the better ads either Facebook or Google would serve. Sure, the later has other ways to leverage data in order to offer better-tailored ads, but that doesn’t mean it can afford to lose the Google+ battle, especially on its home turf.

Facebook vs Google

Sure, not every Android user will get Facebook Home, especially those consumers that like to run their own custom ROMs or who prefer a vanilla Android experience unobstructed by any other UI layers. But that still leaves a lot of Android device owners that would appreciate using Facebook apps on their mobile devices right from the Home and/or lock screen.

After all, Facebook did not risk the farm on this move. The company is simply leveraging its power in the social networking business, and by power we mean the fact that the Facebook app is the most popular smartphone app, to turn a profit.

Facebook Home Android Screenshots 1 (8)

Considering that so many people go to the Facebook app countless times during the day – and Facebook probably has a good idea on what the usage of its mobile apps is – offering them an even easier way to check out content from their friends seems like a no brainer for Facebook, especially on a platform so popular as Google’s Android and so… open source.

Facebook could not try to take away the iOS or Windows Phone screens in such a manner, but with Android these prized possessions could be there for the taking.

Google can’t really be happy about this whole Facebook Home thing, or at least we wouldn’t expect it to publicly acknowledge it, especially since Facebook rather praised Android for its openness on stage during its media event. In fact, here’s what Google told VentureBeat when asked about Facebook Home:

The Android platform has spurred the development of hundreds of different types of devices. This latest collaboration demonstrates the openness and flexibility that has made Android so popular. And it’s a win for users who want a customized Facebook experience from Google Play — the heart of the Android ecosystem — along with their favorite Google services like Gmail, Search, and Google Maps.

However, the same source says that Nexus devices won’t support Facebook Home, which is an indication that Google can’t be too thrilled about this.

Facebook Home Android Screenshots (13)

But the fact is that Facebook is challenging Google on its own turf, and could potentially endanger Google’s mobile money-making avenues. Mind you though, that will not happen all of a sudden – and it may not happen at all – but Facebook it’s clearly making a run for it, and it’s not even hiding the fact that monetizing Home will follow.

How will Google fight back? That still remains to be seen, but the Facebook vs Google fight is getting more and more serious.

What kind of Android user are you? Will you install Facebook Home on your Android smartphone or you like things as they are now?

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