Facebook Home, announced last week and due to be released on Friday April 12, occupies a space somewhere in-between an app and a bespoke user interface, or ‘skin’. Unlike OEM skins, Home is optional and requires manual download by the end-user, but unlike most apps, Home is intended to supplant the native user interface of the device.
The potential positives for end-users revolve around easier access to Facebook from your smartphone and a deeper, more intuitive integration of Facebook services such as photo sharing, instant messaging and event notification. However this is a double-edged sword, and all but the most committed Facebook users may view such a comprehensive change in the user experience as a negative, especially if native apps such as Maps, Gmail, search, etc are made more difficult to use. We believe this will result in a large proportion of the initial installs of Facebook Home after its release this Friday will subsequently be uninstalled.
The potential positives for Facebook will come mainly from greater user-engagement with Facebook on mobile and an enhanced ability to monetise that activity - through targeted advertising pushed to the ‘Cover Feed’ for example - which Facebook is under considerable pressure to achieve. The main threat to Facebook from Home will be in the form of potential negative publicity regarding the user-experience compromises the app requires and, of course, privacy concerns arising from such deep Facebook integration.
Among the major smartphone OSs, Facebook Home is likely to be restricted to Android, as iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry make no claims to being ‘open’ and are under no obligation to accommodate Facebook’s attempt to replace their own UI. While we expect the majority of users to continue to access Facebook via a browser or the less intrusive native mobile apps currently on offer (assuming Facebook maintains them), if even 5% of Android users retain Home as their UI that would give Facebook tens of millions of Home users in 2013. Facebook may attempt to increase this proportion through revenue-sharing arrangements with OEMs and mobile operators (most likely tier 2 and below), but the more coercive it is in encouraging end-users to use Home, the greater the likelihood of public backlash and consequent damage to the Facebook brand in general.