Facebook Home: The Death of Android

by Steve Wildstrom   |   April 4th, 2013

Facebook Home Chat-heat (Facebook)As a core operating system, Android is thriving. As a brand–and a user experience–it is dead. Facebook just killed it.

Android’s brand demise has been coming for a long time. Phone makers have been taking advantage of Android’s open architecture to install their own modified versions, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz. The most recent Android launches, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One, have barely mentioned Android. And in announcing Facebook Home, Mark Zuckerberg talked about Android only to say that Facebook was taking advantage of the openness of both Android and the Google Play Store to let anyone with a fairly recent Android phone replace the Android experience with the Facebook Home experience.

I dont know how many people will want Facebook  completely dominating their phone experience. I’m out of  the target demographic by more than a generation, so I’m probably a poor judge. But I’m pretty sure Facebook’s announcement won’t be the last of its sort. Maybe we’ll see a Twitter Home, or a Microsoft Home built around a growing suite of Windows/Skype/Xbox/SkyDrive products.

All of this seems to leave Google in some difficulty. Facebook is a direct competitor to Google’s primary business of delivering customers’ eyeballs to advertisers. Google’s considerable difficulty in monetizing Android just got considerably worse, and things are likely to go downhill from here.

Of course, one thing Google could do, at the risk of being evil, is lock down future releases of Android. That, however, might well be locking the barn door too late. Open source and free (as in speech) versions of Android are out there and Google action might well be viewed as just another fork of Android.

Google never seemed to know just what it wanted to do with Android. Now it may be too late to figure it out.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Walt French

    Google’s assault on WM was brilliant; kneecapped the leading sorta-smartphone OS by offering Android free to struggling OEMs for whom the WM license—$25?—was more than their profit margin. (That “one man…one company” they claimed would take over the internet was Ballmer—notably, Apple had ZERO mobile offering when they bought Android for the purpose of keeping Microsoft off their oxygen hose.)

    So, by making the OS free, Google broke all chance of competition from Redmond. Alas, now Google has a half dozen major competitors in Menlo Park (Facebook), Seattle (Amazon), soon in Seoul (Samsung) and elsewhere. All paying nothing for the privilege of hijacking what Google had thought of as its exclusive portal to the web, one that would direct all users’ eyeballs at Google-provisioned ads.

    The Facebook hijack may really be the death of Android, but Google is nothing if not flexible; just yesterday they announced their divorce from the Apple-developed web engine, which’ll allow them to develop a fully-proprietary web interface. Blink exposes the obvious intention of making browsers more like an operating system (something they precisely did with their Chromebooks) on every other platform that’ll host a Chrome browser—i.e., almost all platforms.

    I agree with your assertion that Android is dead… but remember, “the king is dead…long live the king!” The battle will shift to the browser; perhaps in a couple of years we’ll be thinking “Chrome is dead; long live Chrome!” Google’s business will STILL be acting as a portal to web content; the Facebook challenge is a reminder that those of us who favor the “open web” of blogs sponsored by (Dubl-click) ads are in a minority; most Americans (and other nationals) don’t want to hear some tedious and tendentious opinions; they want to see their friends’ grandkids. Which Google will never be able to monetize, methinks; maybe Facebook will.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Microsoft made such a total mess of Windows Mobile that it’s really hard to say how much of a role Google played in its demise. Remember that Microsoft released WM 6.5 in late 2009–more than two years after the iPhone shipped–without support for multitouch displays and, in fact, not requiring any sort of touch. One of the biggest sins of WM was that it had to support a hodgepodge of form factors, processors, and basic designs–keyboard only, keyboard and resistive touch, touch only–so that it coud never be optimized for anything. And, to the end, it demanded the use of a stylus on touch screens. It was obsolete long before it died. Of course, the fact that OPEMs had to pay a per copy license didn’t help.

      My problem with Android was I couldn’t see how Google was ever going to recoup its investment before Facebook hijacked the user experience and paved the way for others to do the same. What looked difficult yesterday looks imposible today. And what on earth do they do with that black hole of cash, Motorola Mobility?

      • Walt French

        Steve, I’m talking about Google having decimated Windows Mobile‘s business before MS released that 2009 stopgap (which was due to the delayed release of Windows Phone, which in turn resulted from the failed Photon project.

        WM had a one-two punch combo from Apple’s 2007 showing consumers what a modern phone OS could be, and Google’s undercutting the OEM market. Microsoft was hit with two disruptions at once, either of which could’ve been difficult to recover from. Yes, the Microsoft response seems sluggish, uninspired and out of sync with the new ethic. But they were hardly the only firm so clobbered.

        Anyway, my draft of Microsoft Phone’s obit matters only as an example of how first, Google changed the economics of OEM smartphones’ OS, financing its OS business efforts thru controlling the ads users would be shown, rather than Microsoft’s license fees, but today, Facebook has one-upped Google by hijacking that free OS for its own management of users’ ad exposure.

        Almost exactly the opposite of Microsoft, Google is a pretty agile, savvy tactical player, and will see the FB move and raise them one—somehow; my crystal ball doesn’t say how. But if FB can extend Home to make it available on a majority of Android handsets, and if it can fine-tune Home to make phone calls, games and other apps just as accessible as they are on stock Android, Home could be the dominant user experience for Android, potentially shrinking Google’s control of the user to only those users (such as myself, perhaps you, most tech geeks/nerds and the great majority of the punditocracy) for whom Facebook holds little charm. Pretty sure that’s about 10% of the market Google would like to address.

        The Facebook Home project is also a template for other disruptors in other geographies, how they can provide a low-walled garden for their Android customers to walk into. Think of every telecom in the world, for example, and every other social or messaging network on the planet.

        • steve_wildstrom

          Walt, we agree on the potential impact of Google Home.

          But I think you’re off on the history of android in Windows Mobile. The Android G1 (HTC Dream) only shipped in October, 2008, and it was at least a year before Android phones that were any good hit the market. By then, WM was in deep trouble. Google’s first real attempt to disrupt the OEM market, the Nexus One, didn’t ship until early 2010 and was not successful.

          • Walt French

            I stand corrected on the commercial availability of Android. Dunno why I pooched that one, as previously I have stated that it was actually Apple who accomplished what Google set out to do with its earlier purchase of Android, Inc — when it originally cooked up the “one man, one company” line, and when it actually was smart vs smart-alec.

            But I’ll go on: the Open Handset Alliance had captured the OEMs by 2007 and I’d imagine that the wind was out of WM’s sales at that point.

      • Glaurung-Quena

        “And what on earth do they do with that black hole of cash, Motorola Mobility?”

        What they always planned to do: sell their very own smartphones, basically moving the Nexus brand in-house. It’s just that due to the lead time required from designing a handset to getting it out the door, Motorola is still releasing new phones that were designed before Google bought them (I recall a recent article that quoted Google as saying Motorola’s pipeline was 24 months long), and we won’t start to see Google’s own phone designs being made and sold by Motorola for a while longer yet.

        Whether anyone will buy Motorola Nexuses when they finally do appear is of course an entirely different question.

        • steve_wildstrom

          It looks like Google will have sunk about $15 billion into Moto (purchase price plus cumulative losses) by the time it gets a Google-designed product to market. And by then, Samsung is likely to be more entrenched than ever. GoogMoto will need a phenomenal hit to ever look like a sensible investment.

  • Alfiejr

    yup. Zucerkberg was being totally disingenuous by repeatedly saying FB Home doesn’t “fork Android” – the OS. sure, that is literally true, because actually FB is forking the Android “ecosystem” instead. which he knows damn well. it marginalizes Google, to be followed no doubt by an Home built-in FB media store, a FB Maps app, and so on …

    and of course it’s the ecosystem where all the real value of any platform now lies. Just ask Apple …

  • pawhite524

    Steve,

    Excellent article IMHO. Cuts to the chase, for sure. What’s puzzling to me is Google has seemed to invite this. I don’t trust Google with my personal info and have nothing to do with them given their past illusions of benign actions. However, I do trust them to be savvy business people who will do what is best for Google. Wonder what the end game here is?

  • Dromo

    Nonsense Microsft Hmmm they might actually make their own phone os !

    FaceBook is a layer on TOP of Android not a replacement. And there is plenty of competition to Android to keep it in its place. Especially Tizen, which IS open source, and old friend Firefox. Phones are getting increasingly powerful at a rate of knots (8 core phone before an 8 core consumer desktop), rendering! speed concerns irrelevant. And dont forget the phablet/tablet space, looks to be eating laptops/desktops for lunch. And then theres the cloud and lte .. who needs a Phone OS when it can be a dumb terminal attached to a Hadron class processor back at Mobile hq?

    • dJalo Unchained

      I dont think we will ever see a thone (thin phone). Too many service obstacles. People want to be able to listen to music, play games and run other apps when there is no service.

  • http://twitter.com/Sabrura_ Sabrura

    Facebook Home will convert hard core Apple fans to Android fans. So this is a good thing for Google. The Facebook Home is not for business users. So a typical user will be 13. to 16.yr old. This is just what Google needed to migrate users from IOS to Android. Android like Linux is the best open implementation of an OS. So I don’t think FB will put to much effort into building their own. And I don’t think we will see a Google Home concept. But maybe Motorola will create a Google Home phone like the HTC First.

    • TheEternalEmperor

      Dreamer. Won’t happen. Home offers no advantage on iOS over any Facebook app.

  • stevesup

    Facebook Home … like renting the cover of TIME for an ad spread for TEEN … actually it’s kidnapping the cover of TIME from TIME Inc. Google best wake up and smell the ruses.

  • technotweaks.org

    i dont think it will be death of Android because it is just an application which can be installed or uninstalled anytime..if zuckerberg introduces a facebook operating system for any phone then anyone could say ‘its gonna be the death of ANDROID!

    • jfutral

      The general consensus seems to be that as an Android app, Home is undermining by subverting. I guess they are right. Wouldn’t that have to be under the hood though? I mean, does making Facebook Home my home screen on Android really cut out Google from the loop? Wouldn’t any information Google get (which I always assume is what Google is most interested in) still be gotten? Is Home running other Android apps within Home and not Android, thus cutting out AdMob (or whatever that ad arm is called)? Was Google getting any Facebook eyeballs in any Android Facebook app?

      Joe