A couple of weeks ago Eric Schmidt said that Facebook Home was “a tremendous endorsement of the (Android) platform” and this week Matias Durate, Google’s director of Android Operating System User Experience, has said that “the new Facebook Home shows an incredible amount of polish and attention to design detail, and that didn’t come from a hardware manufacturer.” These comments are strangely odd, first because many users are being quite negative about Facebook Home, and second because you don’t see Google making the same comments about HTC Sense, TouchWiz or Amazon’s UI on the Kindle Fire. So what is Google up to?
There could be a variety of reasons that Google is being so complimentary about Facebook Home, it could be nothing, it could just be Google promoting the openness of Android. But there could be something else. What follows is just pure speculation and only the future will tell if any of it is right.
One possible reason that Google is being nice is that it just changed its Play Store terms and conditions to ban apps which update themselves without using the Google Play update process. The new wording says that “[a]n app downloaded from Google Play may not modify, replace or update its own APK binary code using any method other than Google Play’s update mechanism.” Why did Google do this, basically because of Facebook. About six weeks ago, reports started to appear that the Android Facebook app could “self update” without using the Google Play app store. This new ban could have upset Facebook a little and maybe Google are just trying to smooth things over.
Another possibility is that Google intends to integrate Google+ into the Android launcher, an equivalent of Facebook Home but for Google+, Google Home for want of a better moniker. In the past such a bold act would lead to cries of monopoly, antitrust and raise privacy concerns. Google has already been through this loop with its failed social network Google Buzz. Also Microsoft fell foul to this when the EU decided that it wasn’t fair that Internet Explorer was the default (and only installed) browser on Windows. If Google integrated Google+ into the launcher the company could be open to the same accusations, but if the search giant can show that companies like Facebook are able to replace the launcher (and any Google+ integration) with their own social network then Google could have a defense. Similarly it could argue that HTC is able to create a phone with Facebook as the default.
Connected with this are the persistent rumors about Google’s new unified messaging system called Babel. If Babel is deeply integrated into the next version of Android, including into the launcher in a style similar to Facebook Home, then again Google could be open to some tough antitrust and monopoly accusations. There will be cries from users about not having freedom to choose which messaging service they use, why is Babel the default? There will concerns that most users won’t know about alternatives and so on. Again Google can just point to Facebook Home.
There are of course more “far out” and wildly speculative possibilities including secret talks between Facebook and Google that would allow Google to index Facebook statuses or OS level integration of Facebook into Android (like in iOS). If Google and Facebook are involved in any kind of negotiations, at any level, then the odd positive comment from high up Google employees certainly might help the talks!
Since other modifications to Android like HTC Sense or TouchWiz don’t actually help Google with it plans then Google doesn’t really comment on them – positively or negatively, but Facebook Home has had some special attention. What do you think the reason is for this?