“We’re not building a phone or an operating system…we’re building something that’s deeper than an ordinary app”. Claimed Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg addressing rumours of the company’s mobile ambitions that have bubbled along for years.
Those rumours were laid to rest somewhat yesterday (4 April) with the reveal of Facebook Home, a service it hopes will put the social network at the heart of the users’ mobile experience.
It swaps out the existing home screen with its own interface making it easier for phone owners to interact with their social network while forcing them to navigate past Facebook to get to other branded apps.
While this creates less clutter for users, it also means there will be fewer opportunities for third-party apps. It is a situation that could push brands into developing more Facebook apps as well as creating more opportunities to serve up targeted advertising through its access to more robust data.
And there lies the problem. Facebook has been criticised in the past for clogging up users’ news feeds with ads and it risks further backlash if it tries to do the same on smartphones. Imagine you switch on your phone and straight away you are served with ads – in what is traditionally a very personal user experience. Those claims it wants to focus phone experiences around “people” not “apps” start to look a little hazy.
Facebook has long had trouble trying to monetise mobile and it is hard to see it passing up such an opportunity to drive significant revenues. This is why the rumoured TV advertising campaign to encourage people to install the service makes sense.
It needs to sell the idea that Home is a service will add to the smartphone experience and make it easier for people to interact with their favourite brands on the platform. Because not much is known about how advertising through Home will play out assumptions are already being made by observers and this could damage the impact of the campaign if the creative is not spot on.
Die-hard Facebook users will invariably love the service but there will be a vast number of the hundreds of millions of the Android users who will be reluctant to jump in straight away.
It is not just consumers the company needs to be reaching out to. Facebook needs to talk to marketers about how they can target users more effectively or else brands will struggle to get to grips with the service as they have done with Facebook Graph Search. If Facebook can find a way to deliver location-targeted ads to Home in an unobtrusive way it could see the company reap the mobile rewards it has long sought.
The world is going or has already gone mobile. Keeping users inside Facebook is great for Facebook but for Android users who already have the app and customise their launchers there does not seem to a lot about this announcement that adds to that experience. The business has its work cut out if it is to convince the masses that this is how smartphone experiences of the future should be and go on to wrestle a little more control of the mobile experience from Google.