Now that Facebook has introduced its new Home suite of Android apps, opinions on it have begun rolling in. Although few have seen the HTC First, the first and only smartphone built to feature Facebook Home, comments on the concept are notable. So are its implications for Android.
Facebook Home aims to offer up your friends' latest updates on your home screen and messages that reach you no matter what you're doing. After Home becomes available in the Google Play store April 12, all you have to do is download it and sign in to your Facebook account.
Cover Feed, a constant, fresh stream of photos and updates from your News Feed, is always present when you wake up your phone. You can swipe through to see more photos and updates, double tap to "like" a post and comment right from Cover Feed. Other features include Notifications, Chat Heads that let you jump in and out of conversations while you do other things on the device, and app launching that lets you see your favorite apps and post to Facebook from the same place.
Facebook Hijacks Android
We turned to Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, for his analysis of Facebook's latest offering. While it remains to be seen how adoption will play out, he told us he views Facebook Home on Android as another potential competitive threat to Google's mobile monetization efforts. Samsung is the other threat.
"We find the 'people first' interface of Facebook Home refreshing and new versus apps and tasks today on most mobile devices," Wu said. "However, we believe the barrier to entry isn't that high for others to replicate. Though we have to admit that one big advantage that Facebook undoubtedly has is that it is by far the most widely used social network ."
Wu believes Facebook Home hijacks the Android user interface. He said it essentially becomes the main user interface for an Android smartphone and puts Google services like Gmail, search, YouTube and Play in the background.
Will Android's Terms Change?
"The big question is whether Android licensing terms will change in the future to prevent something like this to happen," Wu said. "The other downside is that Facebook Home arguably further fragments Android, requiring the need for developers to make multiple versions of the same apps."
Wu said another question worth asking was whether there was a significant market for a social-focused mobile device. As he sees it, this is ultimately a matter of whether users want a prominent view of their friends and feeds at all times. He said this could particularly be an issue for users with a lot of Facebook friends.
"HTC is the first hardware partner and it is a relatively smaller player with 5 percent market share in Android," Wu said. "It will be interesting to see if Samsung, the dominant leader with 42 percent share, signs up to create a FB smartphone and/or tablet when it has its own software and Internet ambitions."