Yesterday’s announcement of Facebook Home means that for the first time a mainstream service has a better offering on Android than on iPhone, partly due to restrictions of the iOS platform itself. Facebook Home for Android updates your home screen with status updates and photos, shows profile pictures of your friends on top of other applications with the new Chat Heads messaging functionality, integrates text/SMS messaging with Facebook, which is all not possible with iOS. On top of that, Facebook has spent a lot of time making sure all interactions are absolutely astonishing, with new interaction patterns and a new physics engine. So this is really the first main stream service that has a much better and more powerful app on Android than on iOS.
Of course, this will not be for everybody. With the new Chat Heads, Facebook is clearly trying to keep other competing messaging services like WhatsApp, MessageMe and SnapChat at bay. These services are mostly used by teens. Getting status updates on your home screen and even your lock screen has a huge impact on privacy and more serious business oriented users will not like this. Also, out of the box only 5 phones will be supported (HTC One, HTC One X/X+, HTC First, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and Samsung Galaxy Note II). This is probably because of hardware/OS requirements but also rigorous testing required to make sure all works fine. A crashing home screen of course needs to work flawless, otherwise users will uninstall within minutes. Your Android phone will become dominated by Facebook, and not everybody will like that. Hopefully Facebook keeps it as user experience focussed as possible and will not become the new toolbar as on the Windows platform.
So what does is mean for other companies? Google will be less visible within Android with Home, no search anymore on the home screen. No support announced for the Nexus 4 was remarkable, but as Facebook Home will be downloadable via Google Play store Google is aware and letting Facebook put it out there. Still users need to sign up with Google for a Google account, and Google can still gather all information it does normally. In the future FB might include it’s investor Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Bing Maps. Android has not been altered for this, although HTC admitted that they made some chances to Android to allow notifications to be shown in a more prominent way. For Apple, this means that the number one consumer service world wide will have a better presence on a competing platform, because of Apple’s own choices. Apple chooses to remain closed, keeping control over apps in a strict way. Yes that means less malware and crap apps, but also stops 3rd party developers from pushing the platform further. As we move to more constant monitoring and more push from apps from the current situation where interaction with your mobile phone is initiated by the user, background processing will prove to be vital. Apple not allowing this will be a big hurdle for companies to innovate on iOS.
I am curious to see what is does for app distribution. Facebook Home also has an app launcher, which is remarkable because the Android app launcher itself is great and Facebook for now does not all a lot of value. The value it has right now is that it is integral part of Facebook Home so you don’t need to switch a few taps forward to the Android launcher. This FB launcher offers great possibilities for the future, making FB a prime app marketing channel.
I am really excited about the new functionalities and interaction patterns, Facebook is pushing the envelope with what is possible for mobile. What do you think? Will you install Facebook Home on your Android phone?