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The Phone Doesn’t Matter In #FacebookPhone

Chris Silva

This post was also cross-posted at my blog

We all gathered amidst the rain and clouds at Facebook HQ, 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA to see what would be unveiled. A new flagship Android phone, tailored toward Facebook users? A new branch of the Android OS? A groundbreaking partnership?

Turns out it’s an application – a launcher to bring Facebook to the top of the Android OS on the devices it will run on and, in addition, some purpose-built hardware that will showcase the new Facebook Home integrated launcher and applications. Some will certainly label this a letdown, they were expecting more disruption, but here’s why this is the smartest move for Facebook.

  • Facebook wants deeper engagement, more frequency of interaction from users. When you experience Facebook Home in person, you see just how front-of-mind the experience is. You’re device essentially becomes a billboard for interacting with Facebook when idle. Providing this at-your-fingertips ability to interact with the social network will drive more frequent and likely longer engagement with Facebook. Putting messaging at the core of its #home product. Integrating Facebook messaging as the layer through which SMS and Facebook messages are interacted with is a key example of driving more behaviors to the social network.
  • The second half of the smartphone buyers in the US market are not looking for high-end devices. The first 50% of smartphone users in the US were buying iPhones and other top-tier devices. Many of these devices are largely used for business. The second 50% of the market, who are starting to come online now are younger, more price sensitive and gravitate toward mobile devices - specifically smartphones – for the social experience. Facebook’s announcement provides them with hardware that’s within their range, and centered on what they care about, and the apps extend to others who’ve already made an investment, its partnership with HTC and AT&T drive non smartphone users into the fold with a custom-built experience that matters to them because it’s based on social, and specifically, Facebook.
  • Facebook wants to deliver an immersive experience. Facebook does not need to create a fork of the Android OS or build a phone from scratch to do this. That said, to create an immersive experience, they did need to focus on Android to start because it offers a much deeper level of integration. “We wanted this to feel like system software, not an app you run,” according to Zuckerberg. The open advantage of Android in this announcement is not to be underestimated. What was announced today is not – at least yet – possible on any other platform. The key to Android’s differentiation may lie in others making use of it to provide new, novel experiences. This is a best case example of what Google intended when making Android open source, and other platforms should take notice.

Why doesn’t the phone matter? It’s certainly a nice piece of hardware in the look and feel department and Facebook’s integration of system notifications alongside those from Facebook apps (not available if you install the Home app on your Galaxy SIII or other compatible device) is a nice example of tight integration but it’s a minor footnote to the story. Getting pre-briefed about the solution, I’d say the Facebook team spent about 60% of their time on the software with the remaining 40% on the device due only to my slew of questions about it.

“Our phones are designed around apps, not people.” – Mark Zuckerberg

In the end, mobile advancements for brands, social networks and imperative tools for us to get our jobs done are device agnostic. One of the questions I asked the Facebook team was why they were launching an app and bundled hardware at the same time and not staggering the launch. Their answer came in one word, “scale.”

“A great phone may sell only 10 or 20 million units, even if we did a great job with a phone… we’d still only be reaching a portion of the mobile community.” – Mark Zuckerberg

They’re also really excited to launch Home on tablets, devices with higher interaction times to begin with. Facebook will be launching Home for tablets later in the year. Lastly, using an app versus a new devicew or OS they’re able to iterate much more quickly, according to the VP of Engineering for the product.

Any mobile initiative that brands, internal mobile strategiests or others want to make waves have to go as broad as possible, that means multiple OSes, multiple form factors and multiple devices. We’re now buying mobile as tools and experience that make our lives better, not as pieces of hardware.