I don't know if Facebook will reach its target audience with Facebook Home. Although Chat Heads are great, the Home experience itself simplifies app management to a fault. I fully recognize that most people don't give their homescreens much thought and don't invest much time in customization, so it's entirely possible that I'm off the mark and there's enough functionality here for casual smartphone users — but I don't think I am.
That said, I find it very telling that even this infrequent Facebook user found himself interacting with status updates instead of doing other stuff on my phone — Home radically increased my Facebook usage. If Facebook makes good on its promise to release monthly updates and these updates can significantly increase the basic utility of the homescreen, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a lot of people start using it.
Although I've been stating this repeatedly for quite some time, it bears relevance to reiterate once more:
Facebook has reached a point at which the steady stream of incoming users will inevitably peak. With over one billion active users and a sizable volume of shareholders to satisfy, Mr. Zuckerberg and his team can no longer focus upon merely increasing user numbers to marry with ad impressions.
Instead, Facebook must instead focus upon keeping existing users entertained and engaged within the bounds of their services. The more time spent within the Facebook ecosystem correlates to more ad impressions and, therefore, increased revenue.
Thus, with the introduction of Facebook Home, the social networking giant has made an extremely interesting maneuver, indeed. Rather than relying solely upon app distribution, Facebook has sought to establish a foothold at the core of the mobile experience. Importantly, Facebook has achieved this goal without re-inventing the wheel, but by supplanting a trojan horse onto the vast majority of the most popular Android devices available today.
Dieter Bohn's review targets this distribution mechanism and developmental simplicity as a potential flaw for Facebook Home. I tend to think it's quite the contrary.
One of the most trite and oft-spoken criticisms of Android is that it's excessively complex for the average user. Much of this thinking stems from the early versions of Android, which were irresponsive and difficult to use.
Whether or not this assessment remains accurate (it doesn't), the stereotyping of Android's complexity versus iOS' ease of use is unquestionably troublesome for the platform. Google is working tirelessly to address this with each update to Android 4.x, but it suffers from an ongoing brand identity problem.
Facebook, on the other hand, suffers from no such concerns.
With Facebook Home, Facebook is able to swoop into the Android ecosystem, pave over the perceived complexities of the O.S., and supplant its functionality with a delightfully social front-end. And, as it is, indeed, a front-end, Facebook Home does not preclude the utility of the Android beneath.
Facebook Home is a skin-deep "launcher" that users will perceive as a fully-fledged operating system. And, unlike its competitors, it'll be available to install or uninstall on a whim. The sheer value of this inevitable misconception and the associative level of accessibility cannot be understated.
It's precisely the simplicity and lack of robust features that will make Facebook Home an enticing option for average users. In a simplistic manner, Facebook Home will leverage the voyeuristic draw of its ecosystem, whilst also expanding upon the utility of its apps and messaging platforms. The result is a good-looking, easy-to-use, and fundamentally fun front-end for a mobile phone.
Unlike Android, iOS, or Windows Phone, Facebook Home is not a prescription. You do not buy into its ecosystem and lock yourself in. Instead, you merely enhance the sociability and simplicity of a device — without any obligations to continue down this route — freely and easily.
Perhaps Facebook Home will prove to be a boring flop as some are predicting. That's certainly not outside the bounds of possibility. Having said that, I tend to think Facebook Home is one of the most compelling mobile experiments on the market today and, most of all, it's available to experiment with for anyone with a compatible Android device. It's an exciting precedent and I cannot help but think Facebook is blazing a path toward a new paradigm in smartphone branding and distribution.
For all of this, I simply wish to impart that Facebook Home should not be decried and judged for its simplicity, but it should be assessed for its obvious potential for upending a portion of the social marketplace. They're not casting a wide net to appeal to us all, they're providing a compelling, interesting, and innovative avenue for a select few. And with the seed planted, I cannot help but think the possibility for growth will be enormous.