As many of you who follow tech know, Facebook recently released Facebook Home for Android. This was a big deal for many reasons, and has several implications in the mobile arena. It turned out that the long rumored ‘Facebook phone’, was really Facebook Home. (see this review on The Verge with videos) I agreed with the idea of putting large photos from other people’s Facebook feeds as the lock screen and home screen was pretty weird. Ellis Hamburger writes on The Verge:
“What if our phones were designed around people, not apps?” Zuckerberg asked, but what if those people are ugly? What if you haven’t seen some of those people in five years? Yes, the News Feed you browse every day is filled with these same things, but your lock screen is the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see before you fall asleep.”
His point is exactly why after a few days I found Facebook Home annoying, and replaced it. I did however keep the ChatHeads feature, and use it often. Another thing I dislike about Home is how this review talked about how the Facebook Home ads seem to encourage us to be even less engaged in the real world around us. Also, many images on Facebook are taken with phones at low quality, and don’t look nearly as good as the professional stock photos in the Facebook Home ads. However after using Facebook Home for a few days on my SGS3, I was actually surprised that for the most part, the photos didn’t look too bad. However the issue of them being irrelevant, and annoyingly taking up my lockscreen, homescreen, and causing me to spend (read: waste) way more time on Facebook than I want to, is a real issue. Now I’m not a real Facebook user anyway (that topic is for another post), but I’m very intrigued by this move for several reasons, but most excited about the new ChatHeads feature as part of Facebook Messenger.
First, for Facebook Home. There are several crucial points here. 1) Facebook did not fork Android, (like Amazon did and many other Chinese companies are doing) as many expected them to. This is good news for Google, and I think good news for Facebook. Its good news for Facebook because I think it makes more sense for Facebook to simply become a larger part of your phone experience, rather than trying to compete with Google and Apple by creating their own OS. By releasing Facebook Home, Facebook is essentially piggy-backing on the success of Google and Android, rather than trying to expend the resources necessary to compete with them. So it saves Facebook a lot of effort, and will likely in the end be more successful than a full Facebook Phone would have been.
The fact that Facebook did not fork Android is of course good news for Google, because as Eric Schmidt said, it is a ringing endorsement of how the openness of Android has led to a versatility of the software that its main competitor, Apple and iOS, don’t have. And this I think is the meat of the issue here and why Facebook Home and ChatHeads are such a big deal.
It highlights on a much broader scale than simply the tech press that Android can do things the iPhone can’t. This has been true for a long time, but never has it become as painfully obvious to current iPhone users than it is now.
My wife saw my ChatHeads and my Facebook Home lockscreen and said “Cool, can I download that for my iPhone?” The answer is no, you can’t. And herein lies the problem. Is this the first time that a signature brand name app is launching not only on Android first, but on Android exclusively? And heres the kicker, its not because Zuckerberg likes Android better. Its that their innovative idea can’t run on iOS. Let me say this again, one of the biggest name and most innovative apps of the past few months, CANNOT RUN ON iOS. Is this a paradigm shift? It has been mentioned that this could be the first major shift toward ending one of the increasingly few things that computers do better than our phones – layered windows for different apps. Now of course there have been other previous apps for Android offering layers and multiple apps in the same screen, most notably Samsung’s multi window features on the Galaxy Note, as well smaller app developers such as Overlays, OverSkreen, FloatingPlayer, hovernote. But Facebook has a user base appeal to the millions of ‘average consumers’, who will now see painfully something very cool and useful that their friends with an Android phone have but they can’t use on the iPhone. By this I’m referring to ChatHeads, more so than Facebook Home.
Now there is certainly a downside for Google too, namely that Facebook is using Home for advertising, thus using Android to squeeze out ad dollars. Google certainly can’t be too excited about that, but it still doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t benefit from users using other Google products on their Android phone, such as Google Maps, YouTube, etc.
Indeed for years there have been several things Android does that iOS can’t, but that was known mostly by the tech community. John Gruber (of Daring Fireball) mentions Swype as an example of something that Android can do but iOS can’t, but Swype never had the name recognition nor user base of Facebook. The average consumer didnt know much difference between Android and iOS. Now Facebook is an app that arguable most people use most of the time. So now seeing a dramatic improvement in UI in the Android version of Facebook (how many times have you heard that phrase before?) ‘average’ iOS users will say hmmm, this Android stuff looks better than my iPhone. (again, have you ever heard that before?)
Now kudos should be given to Adam Bell for this jailbreak hack to bring full ChatHeads to iOS. So just as Apple has taken other ideas from the jailbreak community before, do they somehow integrate ChatHeads into iOS 7?
What does Apple do now? Do they respond somehow by allowing ChatHeads? Do they open up iOS more to these types of apps? Or do they simply do nothing, and move on as if ChatHeads aren’t a big deal?
In my mind, this is the beginning of a shift where Android, because of its open nature, starts to shine as being more flexible, customizable, and indeed beautiful, even to the average consumer, and particularly to the iPhone user.