Is it an app? An operating system? A widget? A… launcher? Facebook Home may be all, or none, of those things. Like most things Facebook, the intentions are obscured by an in-your-face experience. The Android landscape has room for this kind of thing, and to be fair… it’s not a bad idea. For Facebook. For you and I, it may be trouble.
When Facebook announced their Facebook Home… thing… on the HTC First, everyone was a bit befuddled by the device. It’s not special by any means. In fact, the phone hardware is dated. Facebook tried to spin it, commenting that screen size on Android devices was out of hand, amongst other things, but the truth is… the device is genius.
A 4.3” screen (1280×720), 5MP Rear/1.5MP front cameras, 1.4GHz dual core snapdragon processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 2,000mAh battery. That sounds a lot like cutting-edge 18 months ago. The tech fan in us laughs, but think about it. A phone with those specs can’t cost much, and initial deals put the phone at $450 off-contract, or $99 with a two-year plan. The subsidized price alone will put the device into the hands of quite a few consumers.
Let’s also be fair that most consumers don’t care much about speed and performance of their mobile device. Most people still marvel that their phone will deliver email, or browse the internet. People like features, and Facebook Home is just that.
hates loves Android
Remember a few months ago, when Facebook did an about-face and began focusing on Android? We all figured it was simply a company realizing that Android was dominant, and their product for it was pretty bad. The Facebook teams seemed to love iOS, as that app was always superior to the Android variety.
With Facebook Home, we finally understand the sudden shift in focus to Android. Facebook has long been searching for a way to get mobile users directly onto Facebook, or at least streamline the process. This… thing… they came out with yesterday is a stroke of genius for them. No more silly phones with special Facebook buttons. Now your phone… any phone, really… is Facebook.
The Android issue
Will ‘Android’ care? This is an interesting query. On one hand, a competing social media platform has effectively taken over a device, and perhaps more of them in the future. If you subscribe to the Andy Rubin way of thinking, Android needs more of this. To his mind, Android needs more entities making custom skins, launchers, and the like.
I have to side with Andy, here. Android is open source, and available to anyone who would like to do this kind of thing. The real interest for Android, and by virtue Google, is the Play Store. If an Android device has a Play Store app, then Google stands to profit from it. Butchers don’t ask how you’re going to cook meat before selling it to you, and Google doesn’t ask how you’re going to use Android before letting you use it.
What struck me immediately about Facebook Home is the interface of it. Not the chat, but the cards that pop up. It reminded me of our favorite Google Search interface, Google Now.
The difference here is that Facebook Home is really meant solely for Facebook, and has little to do with the rest of the world. While I initially considered it sublime, what then occurred to me the arrogance behind it. Facebook is asking you to live inside of their bubble, rather than visit it. Facebook is not suggesting you check-in from time to time, they’re demanding you involve yourself wholly. A social network that insists on your involvement. Frightening.
We’re also left to wonder just what permissions this… thing… will want. If it asks for any access to your photos or contact info, I’d be more than cautious to allow that. Facebook has a terrible reputation for keeping your information safe, and Mark Zuckerberg has mocked those (including users) who trust him. It’s not so much about sharing information with services, it’s about a level of trust with what services you decide to share with.
This is where Facebook Home both realizes its potential, and falls on its face. The chat function actually has a nice interface. Little chat bubbles are a fresh idea, and what looks to be the ability to move them about the screen is a nice touch.
Then again, do you really want a chat notification in your face like that? While you can swipe the chat bubble away, it seems to come back when you switch screens. So, if you’re on YouTube and swipe a notification away, then go to Maps… it comes back? That seems obtrusive, more so than simply having the bubble. This feature could prove tiresome, and cause users to disable Facebook Home.
We already have chat notifications that pop-up in the top bar, so why would I want a bubble taking up real estate on my screen? The ability to move it around is nice, but creates a layer of annoyance. Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk, you know? Sometimes… you just want to do your thing without Facebook bothering you. Whether they believe it or not, there is a life outside of Facebook.
Facebook is a one-trick pony. They harp on staying connected, because that’s all they have to sell. There is no calendar feature to send you notifications on upcoming events, or a maps function. There is no internet search, or package delivery notification card.
Those are Google services. Those services are courtesy of your Android device, not Facebook. Millions of people use Facebook to connect, and that’s great… but do that many people want the line between Facebook and the rest of the world blurred? Only time will tell. I happen to use Google+ quite a bit, but I wouldn’t want to have it in my face all the time.
In the days of Vaudeville, people called barkers would stand outside of the tent and loudly proclaim, or ‘bark’, that their show was the greatest you’ll ever see. Bearded ladies! A man who can bend himself into a pretzel! All you had to do was step inside the tent, and you could enjoy the world they had created for you.
Facebook Home is no different. It’s an act, meant to lure you into the tent. Pictures from your stream float across the screen, while the faces of friends haunt your every in-app move. In using Facebook Home, you’ve placed yourself at the mercy of the show.
You can turn the feature off, but let’s be honest… nobody is buying that phone for the hardware. It’s a middle-of-the-road device for the everyman, and that consumer is the Facebook user. That consumer is also the Android user, and Google has plenty of services (including social) built right in. Google also has better devices at a lower cost, so we’re left to wonder just what we’re buying with the HTC First… and buying into with Facebook Home.
The term ‘immersive’ was tossed around at the launch, and is both accurate and daunting. Is Facebook so centric to your life that this… thing… becomes important? That’s really the question. For the Facebook users out there, the question becomes whether or not you want to drown in a sea of it when looking at your device, or if you want to simply visit. Facebook’s home is inside an app, not controlling my device.
So, ask yourself… do you want to visit Grandma Gertrude and Aunt Matilda, or live with them? Staying connected is great, but being connected (literally) at the hip is another thing.