Nobody wants a Facebook phone. Some people decided this before knowing anything about Home, Facebook’s app launcher and software suite set to debut on April 12. Others waited until after Home’s announcement, bemoaning a product based on a single live demo and one (admittedly horrible) advertisement. Still others waited until after reviews of Home and its announcement-buddy, the HTC First, and reports that the reviews weren’t attracting much traffic.
Maybe the nay-sayers are right in thinking that the closest thing we’ve seen to a true “Facebook phone” will fail to catch on — not that Home’s success really matters. But dismissing Home because people who read tech blogs and probably know everything about (and mock) Snapchat, chide Path for its decision to add stickers, used Instagram before it was cool (and, as such, out-hipstered the hipster-iest app around), know what Grindr is, and understand that App.net is a social network, seems like a mistake.
Home doesn’t need to be installed on millions of Android devices, though I imagine Facebook wouldn’t mind that happening. And, as others have pointed out, Home isn’t really meant for early adopters. It’s meant for some of Facebook’s 1 billion users who spend hours on the service each day. Rather than trying to woo anti-Facebook die hards who probably won’t sign up for the service anyway, Home seems to be Facebook’s attempt to get its existing users to interact with the social network even more.
By that metric, then, Home seems to be the right tool for the job. Both TechCrunch’s MG Siegler (a partner at CrunchFund, which invested in PandoDaily) and The Verge’s Dieter Bohn write in their reviews of Home that the product made them interact with Facebook more than they were before. Wired’s Alexandra Chang writes that she “found [herself] double-tapping to like posts a lot more often in Cover Feed than I’m used to on the desktop or inside the Facebook iOS app.”
Even the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, who, sole among the group, describes himself as “a regular Facebook user,” writes that “with Home, I paid more attention than ever to my news feed, Liked items more often and used Facebook’s Messenger service more often.”
Home probably won’t convince people who aren’t using Facebook to sign up for the social network. But if it can increase Facebook usage among the kind of people who write about technology — the quintessential “early adopters” — then it isn’t hard to imagine Home increasing usage among Facebook’s more rabid users. Think of it as the technological equivalent to an ice cream shop operating at every bus stop: People who really like ice cream will probably be the most excited, but even health nuts might be tempted by the in-your-face availability of frozen treats.
And, if Home gets even a small percentage of Facebook’s users Liking, commenting, and messaging more often, the service could have satellite benefits that improve Facebook for all users. Facebook Messenger, which PandoDaily has called “the new Facebook,” could become a more viable alternative to traditional chat and messaging services. Graph Search could benefit from more Likes entering Facebook, expanding its database and allowing the social network to better answer questions like “Where’s a good place to eat in Manhattan?” or “What music do my friends like?” and so on.
Such improvements could allow Facebook’s influence to spread, using the built-in domino effect Facebook has relied on to capture the Web and pretty much everything except the iPhone to boost its services and keep bored users coming back for more. Home’s success will be determined less by its own popularity and more by how well it acts as a catalyst for Facebook’s other services.
It doesn’t really matter what you or I think of Home, or how many people flocked to technology blogs to read reviews of a phone and app launcher they probably haven’t heard about. We’re basically nothing to Facebook. But the people who already spend most of their time using a smartphone within Facebook’s application? They’re the people Facebook wants to bring Home.