Facebook: making itself at Home on mobile

Facebook's new Home apps for Android could make it the default interface on mobile for the world outside the tech bubble…

Facebook’s aggressive move into mobile was inevitable. As the mobile phone becomes more and more people’s primary device for accessing the internet, the social network had to makes itself at home on mobile, or face irrelevance. And it did more than make itself at home: it made Facebook Home. These series of apps essentially take over your Android phone, creating a Facebook-mediated experience, that puts interaction with your friends front and centre. It’s not a Facebook OS, so much as a Facebook skin over Android – and perhaps that’s why the tech world seems to be so negative about it.

We’re fans of OSes and platforms, and things you can build other things on top of. We like our narratives of competition, with lumbering giants – like Google and Apple – squaring up to one another. And, after years of rumours about the “Facebook Phone” we get – some apps?

But they’re more than that, aren’t they? The add Facebook as a layer on top of the operating system, and on top of the other apps. Facebook essentially takes over your phone, sitting on top of everything else.

The tech world seems baffled or worried by this development. But I lay odds that a lot of people will be very happy.

A few weeks ago, we had friends of my wife to visit. They’re not really computer users in the run of their lives, relying on mobile phones instead. And what do they use on their phones? Facebook. It’s their primary means of communicating with their extended friends and family, via Facebook itself or its Messenger service. Their life is shared through Facebook, to the point that I found that my wife and baby daughter had been to an aquarium with them while I was working via Facebook, rather than anything else. When they came back from a day in Plymouth, I didn’t need to ask what they’d been doing – they’d shared the photos as they went.

These are the people that Facebook Home is aimed at – and they’ll love it. The first phone shipping with it is the $99 HTC First  a cheap Android phone for a budget-concious market. There’s a lot of people in the world for whom a smartphone is just a way of accessing Facebook, the web and maybe e-mail. The whole app ecosystems we’re so fond of talking about is very close to an irrelevance to them. They’ll snap this up.

The tech world is baffled, because this isn’t a move targeted at us. It’s targeted at the rest of the world – and, if it works, it puts Facebook in the driving seat of mobile without ever having written a phone OS.