Count me among those who felt that Facebook could have gone the way of MySpace. Looks like that was as solid as most of my NCAA “March Madness” predictions.
One of the company’s few mobile missteps was the introduction of Facebook Home. It’s an app that came preloaded on the HTC First handset. It delivers a Facebook experience to the user’s home and lock screen so that it’s the first and primary thing a user sees whenever she handles her phone.
With the release of Home, Facebook, in one fell swoop:
Enabled what is essentially a Facebook phone without getting into the hardware business.
Solved one big challenge mobile app developers face: how to rise above the competition and re-engage and nurture active users who face millions of alternative apps that can make it hard for a developer to make money.
Exploited a vulnerability in Android’s operating system, which allows for a company like Facebook to build its own layer on top of Android. This essentially subordinates Android’s key features, including easy access to its money-generating search engine.
I don’t think just any developer could pull off Facebook’s strategy and convince customers to buy or customize a phone with one app positioned as the first and primary thing a consumer sees. You’d need to have a category-leading service to convince a customer that it would be worth her while to make it the dominant presence on her phone.
Facebook Home didn’t take off, perhaps because of poor quality. Many complaints noted the annoyance customers say they experience when they want to get to the other stuff Home-enabled phones can do.
Mobile marketers shouldn’t count out the Home app phenomenon, though. There are a bunch of category leaders who could publish their own Home experiences. Imagine you’re a sports fan. You might love having ESPN, Sports Illustrated, or Goal.com take over your phone. Into weather? AccuWeather or The Weather Channel have loads of content that could bring a phone’s lock or home screen to life. Companies that offer celebrity news, music, science, automotive, and more need to start thinking about what their version of Facebook Home could and should do, as well as how many and what types of users they think would want that experience.
What would Google do in a world of proliferating Home apps? Would it change Android’s terms and conditions to prevent this to ensure its money-printing search engine remains front and center at all times? That would please Google’s finance team, but people who love their Home content might lose out. Or would Google stand pat and risk the introduction of more and more Home experiences that threaten to make it harder for consumers to do the things that make Google money?
It’s probably too early to tell, but if you have an app that leads a category and services a lot of active users, consider elevating it to a Home experience of your own.