Update: On May 13, Zach Epstein of BGR was the first to report that the HTC First will be discontinued. Signs pointed to distress several days ago when, after a little over a month on the shelves, AT&T announced that the price of the First would be dropped from $99.99 to 99¢. Although AT&T claimed the sudden decrease was based on data usage – the provider said First users were liable to buy more to keep overages at bay, thus balancing out the price – it was immediately apparent something deeper was going on. While the First is not officially off the market, a discontinuation announcement seems imminent. Moreover, users are not readily cozying up to Facebook Home itself. While about 60-70 million active devices are compatible with Home, it just hit a million downloads and has a two-star rating in the Google Play store.
The Facebook Phone is here… well, sort of. At a launch event on April 4, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserted, “Today we’re going to finally talk about that Facebook Phone. More accurately, we’re gonna talk about how you can turn your phone into a Facebook phone.” The big announcement was Facebook Home, a group of apps that essentially makes your smartphone a multi-functional version of the social network. Although this is indeed a unique idea for a social media company – kudos for thinking outside the box – I’m not sure it’s a particularly solid one.
The intent of Facebook Home, according to Zuckerberg, is “to bring the experience having a home, of having everything you need (namely, everything Facebook) right around you… to your phone.” Some hallmark features of Facebook Home are the Cover Feed, which maintains a steady stream of stories and photos from your Facebook feed, and “chat heads,” text notifications that feature friends’ profile pictures and can be moved around your screen. Mashable notes that chat heads can be “trained” to pop up in the area of the screen you prefer, which is a nice touch.
Instagram and Facebook service apps like Messenger are built into Home and easily accessible. Although any device running Home supports third-party apps, they’re a little harder to get to than those that are Facebook-approved. Launching April 12, Facebook Home will be available as a Google Play download and hardwired into the all-new HTC First smartphone, which will sync with AT&T’s LTE network and retail for $99.99 with a two-year contract.
Before I even knew Home was the answer to the Facebook Phone, one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was if Facebook would install some souped-up, ultra-creepy version of data tracking into any device or OS. However, Facebook told Mashable they will apply their current Data Use Policy to Facebook Home. “We may put together your current city with GPS and other location information we have about you to, for example, tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in.” In short, Home will only track your activity within Facebook when it’s in use, and can’t pull location information from any other apps.
On the topic of data and advertising, while brands may eventually be able to advertise on Cover Feed – giving them prime real estate and Facebook big-time revenue – they will never have a level playing field on any Home-supported device when it comes to apps. Any app outside of the Facebook family, from Twitter to Angry Birds, will be second string and harder enough to access to be annoying. Yes, Home is Facebook’s game, and they’re trying to be competitive. Could any other social network follow suit and nudge Facebook out on its own OS? Of course. However, isn’t forcing users to be hit over the head with Facebook-only information a bit… Orwellian? Beyond the genuinely Facebook-obsessed, I’m skeptical that consumers, especially those accustomed to more open-minded smartphones, will appreciate Home’s “me first” architecture. Success or failure remains to be seen, and I could be eating my words in a few months. But for now, I don’t think many people will be rushing to move in with Facebook Home.
What do you think about Facebook Home?
Constine, Josh. “Facebook Announces ‘Home,’” A Homescreen Replacement For Standard Androids Designed Around People.” techcrunch.com . Ed. Josh Constine. N.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/04/facebook-home-launch/>.
Fitzpatrick, Alex. “Facebook Home Will Not Actively Track Users’ Location .” mashable.com. N.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://mashable.com/2013/04/04/facebook-home-track-location/>.
Heine, Christopher. “Facebook ‘Home’ Will Be Great for Ad Data, but Bad for Brand and Media Apps.” adweek.com. N.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/facebook-home-will-be-great-ad-data-bad-brand-and-media-apps-148394>.
Price, Emily. “Hands On With Facebook Home.” mashable.com. N.p., Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://mashable.com/2013/04/04/facebook-home-2/>.
Velazco, Chris. “Meet The HTC First, The First Android Phone To Come Preloaded With Facebook Home.” techcrunch.com . N.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/04/meet-the-htc-first-the-first-android-smartphone-to-come-preloaded-with-facebook-home/>.