The Facebook phone isn’t a phone: it’s a super-app


Written by:

Facebook Home bikerFacebook announced its big plan for mobile today, called Facebook Home. Despite speculation that it would be a Facebook phone or a Facebook operating system, it’s more like a super app with “deep integration” into Android phones.

It’s basically Facebook’s status stream brought to your phone’s home screen. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it, it’s about switching smart phones’ current emphasis on apps to one on people. Facebook will be your phone’s wallpaper, background, and home screen, which they’re calling “cover feed.”

There’s an app launcher on the bottom of the screen so you can get to your other apps, but make no mistake about it: Facebook wants to be the focus of your phone. No matter what app you’re using, you’ll always be able to post to Facebook or chat with people. 

Chat Head on New York Times

Facebook Home’s new chat head system.

“Chat heads,” little icons of your friends’ Facebook profile pictures, come up in apps, so you can send messages all the time. Facebook designers stressed that in phones today, you have to completely abandon an app to check your messages; it’s an either/or choice. “You should really be able to talk to your friends no matter what app you’re using,” one designer said. But with Home, he said “It really feels like your friends are always there.”

The design struck us as sort of annoying: it’s hard to ignore chat heads when they come up. The design also makes it hard to tell Facebook messages apart from text messages; both share the chat head design.

Facebook’s speakers emphasized how open the Android platform was for development. Zuckerberg made a thinly-veiled reference to Apple’s notoriously closed iOS system: “Because of Google’s commitment to openness, you can have experiences on Android that you can’t have on other platforms.” One of those experiences is building an entirely new UI layer based on physics so that swipes and other motions “feel natural.” Zuckerberg noted in the question and answer session that Facebook couldn’t do that with Apple unless they’re in an approved partnership.

Facebook home integration layer

A reporter at the launch asked the big privacy question: since Facebook is integrated into the phone, will the company be collecting more data about users? After all, data is Facebook’s lifeblood: 85% of the company’s revenue comes from advertising. Zuckerberg said that “analytics only feed back into the device and software usability, not to Facebook’s data stores.” If the past is any indication, Facebook’s looking to know as much as it can about its users–and monetize it.

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.07.21 PM

Update: A few other experts have weighed in on the privacy issues with Facebook Home since we wrote this post. In an article titled “Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy,” Om Malik said, “Facebook is going to use all this data — not to improve our lives — but to target better marketing and advertising messages at us.” Agreeing on the privacy risks, Ovum analyst Jan Dawson wrote that “Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict. Users don’t want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both.”

Facebook Home is available April 12 on Android phones through the Google Play store and on tablets within a few months. There will be an update release every month. HTC and AT&T have the first Home-enabled phone, which is called, appropriately, “HTC First.” It’ll be $99.99 at AT&T, which serves as a good reminder that things come cheap when you pay for them with your data.

HTC First

Zuckerberg said he thinks “this is the best version of Facebook there is.” What do you think? If you’re a current Facebook user, do you want even more Facebook in your face when you’re on your phone, or are you content to let it stay as just an app?

5 Replies to “The Facebook phone isn’t a phone: it’s a super-app”

  1. David Stomkin says:

    I log onto Facebook (via my phone) to visit with a few friends, but from a privacy standpoint I am NEVER comfortable even with my Privacy settings “locked down tight”! The last thing I want is deep Facebook integration on my phone. I don’t trust Facebook…

    • Sarah Downey says:

      I feel the same way. Sounds like you’ll never buy an HTC First, then 😉

      • Mark Oberg says:

        You can go ahead and buy one, then root your phone and remove the Facebook homescreen app. It’s just software.and software can almost always be removed. I’m sure there will be ROMS for it very soon, as it is cheap and plentiful.

        The phone itself is actually a very nice smartphone. It may be one of the cheapest ways to get a good 4G LTE phone right now. There aren’t a lot of them for Android and even less that can be used on multiple networks, once unlocked from the carrier.

    • Mark Oberg says:

      I trust Facebook a lot more than I trust most of the ‘apps’ on it. I have advertised on Facebook. While they do provide a ton of statistical data to advertisers, nothing I saw was personally identifiable.

      A lot of apps, on the other hand, have permissions set to a degree that lets them pretty much rape your account in terms of data mining. When you authorize an app, you often are agreeing to let them have a lot of personal information that you might not want them to have. That is one reason why I don’t use many of them and I have my account nailed down to the point where people I do not know and trust can’t get much more than my name, gender and hometown.

      Reputable companies usually don’t require any info for their apps that is not public. Those that do, make the more personal stuff optional. It’s a good idea to avoid anything that requires non-public info and doesn’t absolutely need it to work. Me? I’d skip them.

      I plan to try the Facebook app on a clean account and see how it works. Right now, my thinking is that the security will be tight at first and then be quietly modified to include more tracking, once the light isn’t shining on them quite as much. That has been Zukerberg’s pattern in the past and there’s no reason to expect a change in Facebook’s modus operandi.

  2. John J. Sokolowski says:

    Big Yawn!

    Anyone with the mentality or lack there of to need Facebook for wallpaper on their home screen deserves the rest of the garbage they’ll get with it.

Leave a Reply