Facebook still has an Android problem

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 25, 2013

From The News Desk

You'd think that Facebook, a company intent on proving its mobile prowess, would better support the world's most popular mobile operating system. Yet the company continually favors iOS over Android, introducing new products and features on Apple's platform while millions of Android users wait months for the same tools.

The latest example of this disparity is Facebook Messenger, Facebook's mobile communications app. Messenger users in Canada, the US, and the UK are able to place free voice calls to other Messenger users via their phone or tablet's data connection, so long as both parties are using an iPhone or iPad. Android users don't yet have access to the feature in the US or the UK, and Canada-based Android users got access two months after the feature's launch on iOS. [Update: A Facebook spokesperson tells PandoDaily that the feature is live for Android users in the UK.]

Messenger is in good company. Facebook's standalone Camera application, which was released in May 2012, and its Snapchat-like Poke application, released in December 2012, are also exclusive to iOS devices. The social network's "core" app was updated to sport a faster, more responsive interface on iOS in August 2012; a similar update to its Android application didn't come until that December.

iOS users got Camera, Poke, and free voice calling. Android users got the privilege (cough) of signing up for Messenger accounts with naught but a name and phone number and the ability to bypass Google's Play Store for future app updates.

No wonder PandoDaily contributor Kevin Kelleher argued that the iPhone, not an Android device, was becoming the "fabled Facebook phone." The iPhone has an entire Facebook ecosystem. Android devices have a few, far-from-stellar applications.

For a sense of how big Android is, and how big it's expected to become: Gartner estimates that nearly 70 percent of smartphones sold in Q4 2012, more than 144 million devices, operate on Android. The IDC predicts that Android will hold almost 53 percent of the market by 2016, a decrease, sure, but still far more than any competing operating system.

Facebook recognized its Android problem last year by encouraging employees to use Android devices -- dubbed "Droidfooding," after the popular "Eat your own dog food" mantra -- and reminding them that Android shipments are expected to vastly outnumber iPhone shipments in coming years. Obviously management didn't listen to its own directive.

Maintaining feature parity between Android and iOS is especially important with Messenger, as the communications app is said to have become more popular than Facebook's core application. Messenger also allows Facebook to compete with other communications apps, like WeChat and other Asian messaging platforms. It's an increasingly important part of Facebook's ecosystem, and right now it's limiting its potential by emphasizing iOS over Android.
Facebook doesn't need to go Android-first, though, if it wants to reach the most users at once, it probably should. The company hasn't even managed to go mobile-first (or mobile-anywhere) despite repeated assurances that it would do so.

But Facebook should at the very least be releasing Android products alongside, or shortly after, their iOS counterparts. Call it Android-also or, in some cases, Android-at-all.

[Image courtesy babyben]