bored shocked the world by announcing their new app experience for Android phones last week. Speculation abounded that Facebook would announce a new phone, a fork of Android’s operating system (think Amazon Kindle, but with a “like” button) or less impressively, an updated app. What we got was a little bit of all three.
Putting aside the HTC First, which is by the way what most customers should do, Facebook made a pretty ambitious announcement. Instead of an Android fork, and instead of an updated Facebook app, we got something that lies in the middle. Facebook Home is a new Lock Screen/Home Screen/Launcher interface which should raise some eyebrows from OEM’s around the Android market.
Basically, Facebook Home is an Android skin. It rests on top of the existing Android Operating system and changes the way Facebook interacts with your phone and vice versa. Instead of an independent app, Facebook Home is intended to be an experience that is omnipresent throughout your phone.
But isn’t that what a skin is? Haven’t OEM’s already done that? Is this not the Facebook equivalent of Touchwiz or Sense? If so, someone’s gotta be pretty mad.
We Were Here First
The thing is, skins already exist. OEM’s have spent millions of dollars in R&D to put together these skins to differentiate their phones from all the other Android pretenders out there. And all of those Android pretenders out there have spent millions of R&D dollars putting skins on their phones to differentiate from all the other Android pretenders out there. Facebook Home is basically the new kid on the block showing up and saying “Here’s my skin and it’s better than your skin, and your skin, and your skin…”
What makes Facebook Home unique is it’s availability to Android devices without going through the trouble of actually making a phone. It really is a great way to do it, from Facebook’s perspective. From an OEM’s perspective, maybe not so much. And this is for two very basic reasons.
OEM’s already accept that a minority of their uber-geek users are going to nuke their skin for a custom ROM. It’s basically a cost of doing business. But what Facebook Home is doing is essentially bringing custom ROMing to the Google Play store and making it available to millions of Android users who don’t have to know how to root a phone to do it.
Also, this Facebook thing – you may have heard of it – is kinda popular. There’s more than a few folks out there who live and breathe
drama Facebook. Facebook bringing their skin to millions of Android toting users may draw people away from their respective OEM skins in droves. It’s easy for an OEM to accept a few thousand folks scoffing at their budgets and loading the latest and greatest CMXX build. But suddenly that’s money down the drain and your Sony Xperia looks and acts just like a GS4 which looks and acts just like an HTC One.
This could also open the door for other businesses out there to do the same thing, but in reality this is a relatively minor risk. Few companies would have the power and pull to make a product of Facebook Home caliber and see the major adoption numbers that Facebook could potentially see (*cough* *cough* Amazon *cough*). Having said that, perhaps it’s time to nip this in the bud.
Full disclosure – I don’t know if this is even possible. There may be absolutely no way that this can happen. I’m not a developer, nor even a super geeky Joe Levi kinda guy. I’m a tech enthusiast, so pardon my shortcomings.
If it’s at all possible, OEM’s should outright block users from downloading and installing Facebook Home. They really should show this newcomer with all his shiny toys that this just simply won’t do. The whole point of skinning a product is to make your product different (and in theory, better) than every other Android manufacturer out there. What they are saying is, “Buy this phone with all these easy to use, innovative features because they’re better than those guys’ phones.” Facebook looks to level that playing field which does not help OEM’s at all.
There are risks to this strategy, of course. What if not all OEM’s take this stance? HTC has already crawled into bed and is spooning Facebook inappropriately, releasing their Facebook-phone-which-is-not-a-Facebook-phone, the HTC First. It is doubtful that they would stand up to Facebook in such a fashion, lest they risk the denial of bringing Facebook Home to their next phone, The HTC second, or the HTC First Too, or the HTC PiRSquared, or whatever. Assuming do not stand up with the others, HTC now has their exclusive skin without having to spend another dollar on it going forward. And that is assuming that HTC is the only holdout to any potential blockage – which is far from certain.
There would also be public backlash. Millions of users deprived of the Facebook experience they
may or may not have heard all about. But if all the OEM’s can take a unified stance and indicate they believe Facebook Home is not within the user experience parameters they seek to deliver to their users, it would eventually blow over. The OEM with the most to lose would clearly be Samsung, the current leader of the Android industry.
Never Going To Happen
I don’t see any blockage like that coming, mind you. But I can imagine there were more than a few boardrooms that were none too happy once Mark Zuckerberg finished his presentation. In just over 30 minutes, he essentially upset the paradigm that has kept OEM’s moving forward in the Android marketspace. With hardware specifications rapidly plateauing, if you take away the skins each OEM implements, we tech writers are going to have a hard time finding stuff to write about (OEM’s read: to praise). Some might argue that a level playing field is a good thing. Some may argue that a unified experience across OEMs is highly desirable, and to a point they’d be right – for the consumer. But for the OEM’s who are all trying to carve their own niche in the Android ecosystem, all Facebook Home does is take away a big playing card.