If you were someone who worried that Facebook was taking over the world, one market segment at a time, it would seem that the smartphone front is safe, for now. As part of the launch of its new pseudo smartphone OS “Facebook Home” back in April, the social media giant had also announced a partnership with HTC to sell the “HTC First” with the application suite pre-installed, essentially creating the official Facebook Phone. Unfortunately, Facebook’s foray into pseudo-OS development received a mostly tepid to slightly-negative response from the public, and HTC’s First faired little better. According to some analysts, as few as 15,000 units have been sold since it’s launch.
AT&T, betting big on the First and Facebook, appears to have a serious overstock problem due to the lackluster market response and has slashed the phone’s price to $.99 (with contract, of course) from the original launch price of $99. Unfortunately for the carrier, they signed a display contract that requires them to continue providing valuable shelf space for the First, despite the phone’s lack of popularity, so the price slash is an obvious desparate move to clear space for better selling phones.
What this means for you:
It’s too early to make any sort of prediction, but Facebook seems to be entering the awkward stage of life as it struggles to find relevance with an increasingly cynical/sophisticated user base while pursuing profit for shareholders disappointed by flops like the Facebook Home app. One of the interesting dynamics that is still very poorly understood is the changing demographic of Facebook’s core audience. The same population segment that helped Facebook rocket to world dominance is now entering into a distinctly different phase of life (college students are now parents and employees), and the next generation of users are young enough to view Facebook as the place where their moms and dads (and grandparents!) “do the ‘net.” The next generation of internet users are very fragmented and intent on experimenting with new platforms that rise and fall with rapidity, and many view Facebook as yesterday’s news. Still, with billions of users worldwide, Facebook has a long way to fall before any other platform, no matter how new or exciting can ever fill its shoes.
In an announcement that surprised pretty much no one in the technology industry, Facebook frontman Mark Zuckerberg announced the arrival of both a Facebook application suite, dubbed “Facebook Home” as well as a phone from HTC called “First” that will have Facebook Home pre-installed. It’s not an operating system, like iOS or Android, nor is the “First” a dedicated Facebook phone. Facebook Home is really a set of apps (only for Android phones at the moment) that essentially makes your phone more like Facebook and less like Android.
What this means for you:
If you live and breathe Facebook (and millions of Americans do just that), then you’ll want to give this app a try, but only if you have an Android phone. iPhone users will be out of luck for the forseeable future, as Apple does not allow the sort of access to the base operating systen that Facebook Home requires. For those of you wondering why anyone would want such a thing on your smartphone, consider this: For many, the Android OS is overwhelming and complicated. They just want to make calls, answer email, and connect with friends. These users are looking for what’s known as a “Walled Garden” experience, very similar to the way AOL offered the “internet” to millions who weren’t interested in (or bewildered by) the unfiltered and un-curated experience of the 1990’s world wide web. You could think of Facebook Home as the new “AOL” for your smartphone.
One thing to keep in mind: Facebook’s revenue model is based upon knowing as much as they can about all of their users. By using Facebook Home, it’s conceivable that Facebook will harvest much more data about you, including location data and browsing habits above and beyond what they can collect while you are sitting at home in front of a computer. If you’ve been living your life on the internet and have nothing to hide, and you don’t mind Facebook mining your smartphone activity for marketing data, Facebook Home might just give you the Facebook phone you’ve always dreamed of.