Facebook's new home on Android

Facebook's new home on Android

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.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Facebook's new home on Android


This is very interesting indeed. I am not a big Facebook user but do check it maybe a couple of times a week. I think that Facebook realizes that they have to evolve because the future is mobile. They have had a rough time of it but have worked through some of their issues. I have read rumors of an HTC Facebook device which would be neat to hear about but I would never buy it. I like my device of choice the iPhone. It is a very cool time to be a geek with all of these flagship phones...changes to mobile providers and now a Facebook mystery. Pretty cool.

I deleted my Facebook last year. The idea if sharing all that information with so much people. Mother and grandma included became weird. To use Facebook I'd have to go on a deleting spree and I'd end up with like 20 friends.

Instagram and Twitter seem to fill my social networking needs. Which essentially are just 2 of the features of Facebook.

It is really easy to limit/filter whom you want to see your posts on Facebook. (No, not just Google+). For quite some time there have been multiple different ways to customize access settings: blocking, creating custom lists, using preset lists, privacy settings. All of this is Extremely easy to use and can be changed for global settings as well as individual posts, if desired.

There are tiny little details that for which Facebook offers no user control.

For instance, if you're in a closed group and comment on someone's post (or post, yourself) that post may be shared by Facebook to your friends (who aren't members of that group), without you ever knowing.

It's similar to how, when you "like" a page, Facebook pretty much spams your friends pages regarding that page. It may be soft spam but it's still spam.

It's not that I don't trust Google or Facebook, well I kind of don't, but just knowing that they both like to use our searches or information somehow makes me scared. Knowing how Android is open makes me scared as well. Nothing is ever safe when you post on the internet. So I'm not really sure what could come from all of this. More spying into ones personal info? If what you may think could happen, Rene, it just boggles my mind that someone would want Facebook to be much more present in their OS after all of the privacy issues FB has, yet people continue to use them more and more regardless. I do use FB and sometimes I just want to quit it altogether, but for some reason I can't pull away from it. But I def. wouldn't want them to be more present on my phone with all the goodies and baddies that I have on there, teehee. Is no place safe out there? lol.Could you imagine a bug in the A-OS posting a random pic of a no no place posted on FB? The many LIKES that it can cause (or not!). lol. But let's see what April 4th brings us. I do like the way FB has the new "timeline" looking now. The other way was a complete mess!

This will interesting to see what comes out of this. There are so many possibilities. Can't wait to see what you guys report back.

If they're smart, they will offer a Facebook launcher to interface more with a user's current device. We all know how amazing the HTC Cha Cha was and how many people waited in line to get one, right? :)

I don't dislike Facebook really but I don't use it a lot anymore. I'm kind of sick of it and the fact they can't even make a properly functioning app. I'm not quite sure what they are planning and I'm also kind of irritated that they are working on this "new home" yet when I get a Facebook alert on my iPhone it doesn't make a sound even when I have selected for it to make a sound. Oh well the joys and frustrations of being a Facebook user I guess.

Facebook joined the Phone market way too late in the game. Facebook is slowly dying, a lot of my friends barely use it; I barely use it. We only use it for applications to sign in with. While I love competition in the work place due to the consumer being the one who wins, I do not think the Facebook phone will deliver that 'WOW' factor that would make it an immediate hit.

With the Facebook Application on everyone smartphone at this time, what could they offer by making a Phone on ANDROID? I simply do not see it working. The only way it could work was to have Facebook apps on other android/ios/wp/bbm phone become somewhat limited but give full access to this new Facebook Android Phone; however, that would hurt their market share dramatically. I have no hope for this device.

Pal, I know exactly what a 'launcher' is supposed to be. Has anyone outside the few comments on this page spoke about a launcher? No. It's about a Facebook Phone; hell, look at the top of the page seems like a phone..No one has really yet considered this to be simply a themed launcher, otherwise they simply could have released it already in the Google Play.

You may think you're trying to help, but this simply makes you look like a damn idiot. I know what a 'launcher' is, I have used Go, Apex, and now I use Nova.

Work on your reading comprehension.

I apologize. It appears I mixed up my articles. I thought that Rene's blog did mention the launcher aspect.

But, if you're truly paying attention, you'll already know that the "HTC Myst" phone is simply the device Facebook has chosen to demonstrate their new FacebookHome.apk, which itself is something between a simple homescreen replacement (like HTC's own BlinkFeed) and a full-blown launcher (given that they've discovered app drawer icons in its code).

Facebook free for 3 years now and loving the freedom. Now I have to insist any friend if mine that owns one of these phones immediately delete me as a contact. They probably have my name and number through other means by now anyway, but with thus they will have access to the texts, pictures, and randomness I send as well. As a non-FB user how do I opt out of that?

Zuck already conquered Apple and has the head of Cook at his desk, now he wants to do the same with Google and Brin. Fragmentation will probably be their largest hurdle.

Minor correction to the article;

"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." you are aware Amazon is ubiquitous across all platforms? The fact this announcement will have nothing to do with iOS should give you an indication your statement is a bit off.

Also ended my Facebook life years ago when pics of my kids which were marked as able to be viewed by a select few contacts ended up on the paged of someone who was two steps removed from one of the individuals allowed access.
Aside from that and knowing I do not use Facebook so if what I suggest already exists I am sorry. I see this as a launch of a new integrated app. UI will look something like a hybrid of newsfeed and flip book with integrated calendar and contact tiles all accessible from this UI. There will also be tiles with targeted ads which cannot be deleted. Ads will use integrated information from contacts, calendar and web searches to help target to your interests. In the google and Facebook style of invading your privacy to make ads more convenient and meaningful for you... And you will all use it because you need your Facebook crack!
Again just a guess from a non Facebook user.

Am I the only one that thinks a phone for a social networking website is the stupidest idea ever? This phone will fail.

Facebook has become a giant online photo album and birthday calendar for me. I have no use for it to be deeply integrated into my phone

I used to be all about Facebook but now when I do check it I usually get about 6 useless and random "so and so shared..." or "so and so liked so and so's picture..." before I just leave in disgust. Is it just me or has Facebook become useless as a result of just too much BS?

I highly doubt that Facebook will be able to sustain the competitive market of mobile operating systems. Facebook is not mobile operating system, it's an app for Pete's sake!! I'm sure they have the talent to create something unique, but from where I'm sitting, I find it hard to see the demand.

Not really sure what that form of equals sign means, and its difficult to dicifer if you are being contentious or not, but a launcher is not an OS. It is merely a skin or mask (launcher)on top of an structural framework (OS)

Facebook is an unnecessary evil. All preferences set so that only my girlfriend could see my check ins. On a trip with her I did a check-in at the mile high club, Baldwin style. By the time we landed, my mom, her mom, her 11 year old niece and some co workers had all commented on the "private" post. I was off Facebook within minutes. She was close behind. That was just us, i couldn't imagine having kids openly exposed like that. My father, a few exes, her ex, and the random strangers do not need to know what we are up to. Facebook has smashed al sorts if people into the same small pond and I've made a deliberate effort to stay out. Now put that cellphone in the hands of your kids, and allow the intrusion and FB proven inability to protect privacy and I'm out. It's funny -ish on a computer, put it in and there it sits, click on, click off, your choice, but on a phone it's terrifying. Do you really want all of your Facebook friends and friends of friends that closely linked to your every move? The rant. Is there an I hate Facebook forum?

i really don't know how successful this is going to be. there are already so many android skins out there. does there really need to be another one

Except for the whole peer pressure issue. "Ha ha, Billy got one of those dorky Facebook phones. Facebook is so, like, 2010."

FB is not releasing a phone of their own. Instead, they're releasing a FB-themed launcher (or homescreen replacement like HTC's BlinkFeed) that can be installed on ANY Android phone. In other words, it's just a user interface layer for the Android OS.

Re: "What's all that talent been up to for the last couple years?"

Building the Facebook Fork (tm) of Android.
To compete with the Samsung Fork (tm) of Android.
Because of the impending Motoroogle Fork (tm) of Android.

I think tearing out Google's "profit layer" and replacing it with another content store + ad delivery mechanism creates a new fork of Android. Not just a skin. A totally new ecosystem. Amazon has forked Android, Samsung is well on the way to completing their forking work (and establishing the Samsung Fork (tm) as the de-facto Android standard) and there are dozens of generic whitebox handset makers in China who have stepped all over Android and removed its connection to Google Play.

So Google will need to create their own proprietary fork just for Motoroogle and their future phones and/or tablets. The bulk of Android devices will have zero connection to Google services. Google needs to create a special proprietary version of Android for Motoroogle devices, to keep Google Play etc. alive.

Samsung has yet to fork Android (maybe they will, but I doubt it). I also doubt Motorola will ever get an Android fork (perhaps some custom apps).

Samsung might not fork Android. But only because they're ramping up Tizen. They plan to release phones based on Tizen later this year, as a hedge against the Motoroogle phone.

And, if Google decides to not create a special Motoroogle fork of Android just for themselves, they could simply delay the release of the latest version of Android to the rest of the world. Motoroogle phones (and pads?) would get the latest release months before the wannabes that haven't forked Android yet.

There is no quicker way to turn me off to something than to link it to FB. "Like This" to enter a contest, Login with your FB name, etc. Apple's integration of FB (and Twitter) is plenty.

It's pretty unlikely to be a "Facebook Phone," and the article argues exactly this too. I don't see why so many people are arguing otherwise in the comments unless you didn't actually read the article and just looked at the picture (it's a mockup).

Google: "F-ing Samsung never mentioned Android or Google in their f-ing Galaxy S4 promotional materials. Facebook, you need to mention Android as often as you can without making everyone sick. M'kay? Pretty please big fella?"

Facebook: "OK, but it'll cost you. Shovel over some cash and we'll talk."

you really think Facebook and Google talk? Apple and Google right now are both in a fetal position over this announcement.