Last week, when Facebook announced Facebook Home, they went out of their way to address two rumors that have been floating in the Facebook soup for some years now:
- Facebook is going to make a phone.
- Facebook is going to make a fork of Android
Instead, they basically created their own skin of Android, running on top of whatever flavor of Android happens to be running on your GSIV, One, or what-have-you. Mark Zuckerberg’s reasoning for this was as follows:
We want to bring this experience of having a home, of always knowing what’s going on around you, right to your phone. And we want to deliver this experience to as many people as possible. So we don’t want to build some kind of phone or operating system that only some people are going to be able to use. A great phone might sell 10 or 20 million units at best and our community has more than a billion people in it. So even if we did a really, really good job building a phone we’d still only be serving 1 or 2 percent of the people in our community and we want to do more than that. We want to build the best experience for every person on every phone.
So instead, what they did was build a skin for Android and they plan to distribute it to many of the mid to high end phones that are floating about in the sea of Android. The phones – rumored to be Galaxy S 4, Galaxy S III, and Galaxy Note II from Samsung, and the One, One X, and One X+ from HTC – are all running some of the latest versions of Android, either Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. Granted the theory behind this could be a “phased rollout”, but if it’s not, the implications are relatively big. Facebook Home is likely a pretty beefy piece of software that requires either a high end processor, high end software, or both.
“So what’s the problem with this?” you might ask. Well the problem is that as of just a few weeks ago, 44% of the Android toting world is still rocking Gingerbread. Add to that the fact that Facebook Home will not be available for iPhone users any time soon, if ever. That’s one heck of a user base to be leaving behind.
It seems when all is said and done, Facebook Home may very well be servicing somewhere around the same number that they said they didn’t want to settle for – 10-20 million. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a pretty impressive number. Presumably, as more and more devices are released, there will be more and more compatibility. Monthly updates to the software would help ease that process as well. Unfortunately though, Apple users and legacy Android device users will still be left out in the cold. And it may well have been avoidable.
Their Own Worst Enemy
Facebook’s strategy of creating a whole new skin of Android is likely the very thing holding it back. Their ambition to recreate the Facebook mobile experience may have sabotaged their goal of reaching the popular masses, rather than just the ones with the slick phones. It certainly has prevented them from (probably ever) reaching an audience on any other platform.
Perhaps the “mid-to-higher-end Android phone users” model is a veiled beta test to see if this Facebook Home thing really works. Maybe the GSIII users of the world are the guinea pigs to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s not a horrible idea, but it could leave some users less than thrilled, hoping that restoring Sense 5 to the HTC One is a relatively easy process.
No Room For Improvement
Facebook Home may very well reach their goal of providing their immersive experience to a large percentage of their population. But Facebook Home seems to be just too heavy a hitter to do so now. Perhaps they’re taking a more long-term view with this concept, but then the question remains – why now? Why go out of your way to say that 10-20 million users is not good enough and then release to 10-20 million users? Even in a best case scenario in which every high end Android phone carrying soul installed Facebook Home, you’re at, conservatively 50-60 million? Which means you’re reaching 5-6% instead of 1-2%. To put it frankly, in a billion users/grand scheme kind of way – so what?
What’s more, their approach leaves absolutely no room for expansion beyond Android. That’s a pretty hefty bet. And even in the Android space it just seems like it’s too much, too soon before the technological world was really ready for it. What do you think? Sound off in the comments. Are you a fan of the “get it out there now and add later” theory, or would you have waited until you could reach more eyeballs at launch?