Next Thursday our own Phil Nickinson will be heading over to Facebook's third event of 2013, and their first that promises to be focused on mobile. Perhaps even disruptive to mobile. Phil has questions about the Facebook Android event, important ones, and rightly so. I have no answers, but I do have this:
Come See Our New Home on Android
Facebook is one of the few companies not already in the mobile platform game that's talented and wealthy enough to do something really interesting. Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Google, even Amazon have all already taken their shots. Each has tackled it according to their own unique corporate cultures and business needs. We've seen bits and pieces from Facebook before, from their mobile apps to their messengers to their social cameras. But what would really express their corporate culture and service their business needs?
Facebook has hired tremendous mobile talent over the last few years. Eric Tseng, who helped run Android at Google, and Mike Matas who helped create the modern era of textured design at Delicious Monster, are but two of the most prominent. Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly taken prominent iOS designers and developers for "Steve Jobs walks", and claimed Facebook was now the best place for them to dent the mobile universe.
What's all that talent been up to for the last couple years? Not making new iterations of the News Feed, and certainly not knocking out Poke apps, that's for sure. Yet Zuckerberg has also said, resolutely and on several occasions, that Facebook's mobile future doesn't lie in their own mobile hardware.
Given that Facebook so prominently name-dropped the mobile operating system of their biggest competitor, in arguably their biggest announcement of the year, might just indicate that Zuckerberg should be taken at his word. Perhaps the entire invitation should be.
Android has a concept of home screens, like iOS, but much more expansive and customizable than iOS. They can be skinned and they can be replaced. For good or for ill, Samsung with TouchWiz, HTC with Sense, and other device manufacturers often completely remake Android's stock interface with their own layers. It's not as extensive as Amazon's Kindle Fire fork, where Android is treated as little more than an embedded OS, but its enough to differentiate and provide some level of ownership.
Unlike Amazon, who wants to be in the hardware game and own their own content distribution platform -- who wants a shiny, proprietary box that will act as a dedicated front-end to the Amazon store -- Facebook wants to be ubiquitous across all platforms. Facebook currently enjoys system level integration in iOS, which is probably as deep as they'll be allowed to go. They'll never take over the experience there, or on Windows Phone or BlackBerry.
Android, however, could let Facebook own the system experience without having to own the system. Home could let Facebook provide deeper integration without turning partners into competitors. HTC could let Facebook show off an inspirational device other manufacturers and end users can immediately see and touch, while also letting them offer the same experience to other manufacturers and users down the road. Facebook for your contacts. Facebook for your photos. Facebook for your messaging. Facebook for your everything Facebook does, and Android for your everything they don't care to do, at least yet. And you feeding back all your identity, information, and transactions -- the data Facebook thrives on -- in exchange. They get to do to Google what Google does to others, they get to disintermediate Google using Google's own platform.
That's my best guess for what we'll see on Thursday -- a brilliantly engineered, gorgeously designed way to inject Facebook into the Android experience and remake it in the social giants image. If so, it's a strategy that gives Facebook a lot of benefit for very little risk, and disproportionate ownership compared to investment. Just as they overwhelmed browsers and walled the web to build their desktop platform, Facebook could be getting ready to face-hugger Android phones and remake them, Facebook-formed.
We'll find out for sure in less than a week.