Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was very careful during his unveiling of Facebook Home to say that his company is not “forking” Android. Those who something from Amazon’s Kindle Fire line will recall that the company added its own interface and forced buyers to use its own app store.
Facebook Home is an app that replaces the standard lock screen, home screen, and app launcher on Android phones, but it has a lighter touch. While this is better for users because they have the option of uninstalling Facebook Home, it acts as a double-edged sword for Google. Here’s why.
Why Facebook Home Is Good for Google
Facebook reminded the world just how closed iOS is. Apple's tight control over its hardware and software ecosystem has some benefits when it comes to stability and performance, but the mere existence of Facebook Home reinforces that iOS is not customizable enough. Sure, you can move icons around and create folders, but that’s about it. In fact, the Google Play store has dozens of launchers and widgets that let you do more with your phone.
During Facebook’s press event, Mr. Zuckerberg said he wants to get Facebook Home software on every device, reminding reporters that the company has “a great relationship with Apple.” Right now though that just sounds like lip service, especially since the CEO said a few moments earlier that Android’s openness made Facebook Home possible.
Unless iOS 7 is radically different than what came before it, Facebook Home on Apple’s platform is highly unlikely.
Facebook Home also speaks to the sheer variety of options available to Android users in terms of hardware. While I don’t think the HTC First is going to be a hit, it gives Google another weapon in its arsenal against the iPhone. Devices like the First will give incentive for some to look away from the Galaxy S4 at a time that Samsung is growing more powerful by the day. That's a major concern for Google.
Why Facebook Home Is Bad for Google
Google can’t be happy about the fact that Facebook Home hijacks the home screen and lock screen for its OS. Millions of people will download this app-on-steroids come April 12, diving further into Facebook. Meanwhile Google Plus is forced to watch from the sidelines. The Cover Feed displays updates only from Facebook and Instagram, which already takes up 25 percent of our time on phones.
It gets worse. As you use applications, Chat Heads from Facebook will pop up on your screen as you receive messages (or texts). And these heads will follow you until you act on the alert. Google Plus won’t get this sort of persistent treatment. Facebook will literally be in people’s faces.
An even bigger concern is that the company counts on Android phone and tablet owners to use its services to make ad revenue, and detouring folks to Facebook will leave less money on the table for the search giant.
Bottom Line: Facebook Home demonstrates why Android became the dominant mobile platform: sheer flexibility. However, the very openness of Google’s platform could result in a sizable decrease in mobile revenue.