Facebook Homes in on Android users

Social networking site Facebook has unveiled an Android launcher application designed to encourage consumers to become more reliant on its services for their mobile communication needs.

Facebook Home is a “deeply integrated” app that takes advantage of the open nature of Google’s Android operating system. The software acts as a user interface  layer, or skin, that puts a customer’s contacts, rather than apps, at the focal point of the user experience.

With Home, users can see a stream of friends’ posts and photos on their home screen and Facebook messages appear on-screen via thumbnails called chat heads, even while the user is engaging with an app. Customers will also be able to share photos and chat instantaneously

The app will be downloadable via Google’s Play app store from April 12, and it will also be installed natively on devices in the near future. Taiwanese handset manufacturer HTC announced that it will be the first to launch such a device with its HTC First LTE device, which it is launching on AT&T’s network in the US. The device will also be available in the UK on EE’s network and in France with Orange from Summer 2013.

A Facebook source said that the firm is currently only focused on the Android OS for Home, and that it continuously works with other OS providers, such as Apple, to improve the user experience on an ongoing basis. When asked whether message notifications from competing services, such as Twitter, appear on the home screen, another Facebook spokesman could not answer definitively, but said that during his time using the app, he has not seen such notifications.

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, believes that in order to broaden Facebook’s appeal on mobile devices, the firm would have to target a broad base of users, which it has found in hundreds of millions of Android users.

“To users, the sell here will be making it easier to share information, photos and so on with friends. But to Facebook, this is about becoming more deeply embedded in the operating system on mobile devices, and creating a broader platform. Since Facebook doesn’t make an operating system for mobile devices, this is the next best thing,” he said.

Dawson added that Facebook Home will allow the firm to track more of a user’s behaviour on devices, and present more advertising opportunities to companies.

“That presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict. Users don’t want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both.”

Prior to the launch of the app, there was much speculation that the social networking site would be debuting its own branded smartphone. However, according to Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, Facebook is not yet ready for the mobile hardware game. Instead, it needs to show hardware partners how the next-generation mobile Facebook should be deeply integrated with mobile hardware.

“The risks are high for Facebook if it was to launch its own smartphone – and the risks could outweigh any benefits that it would gain,” said Saadi. “So I doubt very much that Facebook is interested in having its own phone or co-branding a third-party phone. It has tried to do this with couple of manufacturers and has failed miserably. Facebook has no experience in mobile and hardware reference design, so any involvement in mobile hardware would be suicide for the company.”

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