Why Google Shouldn’t Be Concerned About Facebook Home

by Patrick Moorhead   |   April 5th, 2013

Yesterday, Facebook announced “Home”, a skin that runs on top of Android, pulling consumer’s Facebook experience up to literally the lock–screen of the phone. The demos were facebook homefast, fluid, and very different than anything Android has to offer.  A lot of the press coverage ensued that talked about the big threat this could bring to Android.  Techpinion’s own Steve Wildstrom got into the action, too. The drama is fun, but nothing is farther from the truth on how this will play out.  Facebook Home, in its current form, is nothing more than a skin like MotoBlur, Sense and TouchWiz which will encounter the same challenges and consumer push-back and carrier and handset challenges.

Some of theories that were used to justify the big threat to Google went like this:

  • It’s harder to get to native Google search, their bread and butter
  • Friend updates show up on the lock screen, eliminating the need to get into your phone and Google services
  • Home will lead to Android forking, causing more fragmentation and more app incompatibility

The problem is, none of these logic paths end with the destruction of Google or Android. Let’s peel back the onion.

Anything that slows down the experience for a phone will ultimately get disabled or make consumers very unhappy.  Consider the skins that the major manufacturers install.  There isn’t a single one that doesn’t slow down the base experience when compared to a native Nexus phone.  Not a single one.  I doubt that Facebook Home has found some magical way to crack the code on how to place a layer onto a layer on top of an OS and make it fast.  The demos were fast and fluid, but I am highly skeptical that it will actually work this well.  Only Google holds the keys to this as it involves deep access to the kernel of Android, not the base Android APIs. You think Google gave Facebook access to that?  No way. Facebook will be constantly chasing multiple versions of Android, never able to get the experience where they need it, and it will be slow and buggy.

The next issue with Facebook Home is that doesn’t enable the total experience.  Users will be abruptly moving back and forth between Home and the rest of their home, kind of like switching between two different phones. While not as jarring as moving back and forth between Windows 8 Metro and Desktop, it is still like having two different phones. Facebook Home offers Facebook and Instagram capability, Address book, Messenger and even repackages texts.  But what about the other things you want to do with your phone?  Things like searching for the nearest restaurant, driving directions, tweeting, taking pictures, or web search?  Does anyone really think that if Facebook makes those critical usage more difficult to access, consumers will like that?  The promise of Facebook all the time will be extinguished by the complexity of having two experiences or two phones.

Let’s now address control, control of Android and control of the experience on two levels.  Let’s start with Android control. Google controls Android and they can change the terms and conditions as they see fit.  Android isn’t Linux, it’s owned by Google and they can do what they choose with future versions.  If Facebook Home would surprisingly gain popularity, they will simply change an API or a condition of Google Play or the Android license to make life difficult for Facebook.  It’s no different from what Microsoft has done for years on Windows and I don’t see that changing if or when Tizen or Windows 8 becomes more popular.  Let’s look at control of the experience.  Facebook Home has a built-in governor.  The carriers and handset makers know from Apple that those who control the experience hold the keys to the kingdom.  Sure the carriers and handset makers will take Facebook’s revenue share deal and engineering resources, but don’t think for a second they will keep doing it if it starts to get too much traction.    Therefore Facebook Home can only get limited traction or they will get shut down by carriers and handset makers, which forces Facebook to do what they didn’t want to do, which is do their own phone.

In summary, the Facebook Home announcement showed some nice looking demos of Facebook and how the Facebook experience could be improved.  It doesn’t show, however, how the holistic phone experience is improved.  Consumers do more than Facebook on their phones and that’s where Home breaks down.  Consumers don’t want different experiences, they want one connected experience.   Didn’t Apple teach us that? Even technically, Facebook will have challenges even delivering a fast and engaging experience because, like skins, they are constantly chasing a moving target. They have the same access to the APIs as everyone else does, and only Google holds the keys to the kernel.  If Facebook Home ever does get traction, it will be fleeting because Google can and will change something in Android or change the terms and condition to make life difficult.  Carriers and handset makers will gladly take Facebook’s money now, but if it gains too much traction, they will be forced to drop it else lose control. They don’t want two Googles.

Facebook Home will be a niche offering until Facebook can build out a winning set of holistic phone services and apps, but based on control, will ultimately need to get into the phone business, a tall and risk-laden order.

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Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    One reason that Google should be wary of home: It’s undoubtedly yet another way that Facebook can gather information about your activities. Even if you just look at it as a better Facebook experience for Android, its users are likely to use Facebook more, and deliver more location and contextual data back them. That makes Facebook’s ad offerings – which are already more effective generally than Google’s – even more potent.

    • Nicholas Kathrein

      What apps are they getting this data from? If its from the normal Facebook apps then they will have that data anyway. If they do a google search or use google maps then google gets that info in either case. If they decide to launch the browser then google gets it there too. So far Facebook isn’t getting extra data. They are just going to get people to use Facebook a little more often where they can show them some extra ads.

  • Nicholas Kathrein

    I have to disagree totally with this article. I would bet this is going to run plenty smooth. This is on dual core s400 which is more than fast enough for a smooth experience. All the partners like HTC and Samsung has given Facebook hooks into each companies skin over Android to have deeper integration on these phones. Remember that these skins are from HTC and Samsung are much more than a launcher. Each of these companies adds more code for their extra features and then they compile the kernal. Having these vendors support gives them much more access then you thought in the article above. Could Google come along and say NO. Yes they could but why. I believe that many of the 1st time buyers who might have purchased an iPhone for it’s ease of use might instead be shown the HTC First. I think woman use Facebook more than men so they would be the primary market. The Att rep will ask “what do you want to do with your phone?” The person will say “I want to message people and use Facebook.” They will be shown the HTC First. “Look how easy this is to use.” SOLD.

    Should Google worry. I think not. This is like AOL in the past. People will get this and maybe in a few years out grow it. They now are more likely to move up to a super phone like a Samsung S4 or a nexus. Remeber, that this type of customer constintley goes for iPhones for the easy of use and their friends. If there friends have the HTC first then they will be encouraged to get it. The UI is very nice and lets all be honest. It’s way better than any of us techies thought it would be. There is a customer base for this phone. I am sure of it because my wife and her friends use facebook for 50% of there use and rest messages, email and instigram. She’ll use Google maps when she needs to but not into downloading apps other than some basics.

  • stevesup

    Friends and grandkids … not to mention ads … on a front page and a billion users? Killer. It’s like buying the cover of TIME. Actually it’s more like stealing the cover of TIME from TIME Inc. Clever boots. Sure, Google may throw it off the OS eventually but from on out Facebook will initiating not reacting, I’m guessing.

    Astonishingly some ask why Apple isn’t smart enough to offer Facebook Home. That’s critical reflection fallen off the wagon. Apple will need to respond, but it won’t be by letting Facebook get to home base. There’s no place like…

    Will it succeed? Yep. Like it or not Facebook got it right: software drives hardware sales. Always has. More so in mobile; software (tunes) fueled the iPod and software (apps), the iPhone and iPad. Google is all software all the time; it hasn’t figured out how to make a buck off hardware, Moto notwithstanding. (Cars and glasses are joke products at this point.)

    Regardless what Z says today, Facebook will pull a Bezos and fork or flee Android and do its own phone. Why? Cus’ that’s where the real money is: Integration. Ask Apple. Ask Samsung. Eventually stakeholders will get their heads out of the clouds long enough to ask why Facebook and Google leave the big money on the table.

  • AdamChew

    Google should be very concerned because someone else is now eating from their rice bowl.

    The rice in the bowl is advertising which is the stuffs that feed google and whatever else they are doing is peanuts which are only good for monkeys.

  • Mark Jones

    I think it’s too early to judge. The key will be how quickly Facebook adds many other good-quality services to its Home user interface. The more good services it makes quickly accessible, the more it keeps users from venturing beyond Home, the more info it collects and keeps away from Google.

    There are many similarities to what Amazon and Samsung and HTC are doing, and some differences. All of them have inserted a layer on top of Android that is the first thing seen by users on their devices. Amazon/Samsung/HTC’s layer only runs on their own hardware, while Facebook Home will soon be loadable on many new Android devices. (Like Facebook, Amazon has apps for other Android devices but the Kindle ebook/Amazon shopping apps have limited scope.)

    Samsung/HTC/Facebook’s layer still allows access to Google services, while Amazon’s layer replaces those services. Facebook implies it intends to provide its own alternative for those services someday.

    Samsung/HTC monetize primarily through hardware sales, Amazon primarily through an ongoing stream of sales of Amazon goods and content. Facebook (and Amazon and even Samsung) aim to monetize via advertising sales — which still is the primary monetization vehicle for Google. So just like Amazon and Samsung, Facebook is a threat to Google but it’s more dangerous as it has a wider reach (more devices) and is a direct competitor for advertising dollars.