Facebook may claim more than a billion active monthly users. But you've
got to believe that only a fraction of those folks would actually want to buy a
I'm not suggesting lack of interest. You saw all the hype leading up to Thursday's announcement of the Facebook Home interface for what is, out of the gate anyway, a small selection of Android devices. And, yes, in the HTC First, there is something concrete that we can call a Facebook phone, or perhaps more accurately, a Facebook-optimized phone. It will cost $99.99 when it arrives April 12 from AT&T, in one of four colors. I'm just not convinced that there are many Facebook users clamoring for mobile hardware from their favorite social network.
Don't get me wrong. I expect many of the people who own one of the devices that will be compatible with the new interface -- out of the gate, the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Samsung Note II, the HTC One X and the One X+ -- will give Facebook Home a try. (I know I will.) More phones, including the highly anticipated Galaxy S4 and HTC One, are coming. You'll have to download the new interface on these various devices via the Google Play store.
And best as I can tell from watching the Facebook event remotely via live stream, Facebook Home is attractive and seamless. It has what appears to be a simplified app launcher, and a Cover Feed screen that apparently does a lovely job of showing off pictures from your Facebook friends. It also looks like it will be a breeze to chat with your Facebook friends via what Facebook is calling Chat Heads (small circles that appear with a person's Facebook profile picture). You're unlikely to miss Facebook feeds and notifications, which turn up over the app that you are already using on your phone.
I'm just skeptical that the midtier HTC First -- and I have to caution readers that I say this without any hands-on experience with the device -- will suddenly jump to the top of a consumer's wish list when they consider all the cool phones that are already out there competing for their affection.
In that sense, Facebook's strategy of making Home available on multiple Android devices is a smart way to go rather than pushing its own hardware too hard. (No word on plans to provide a version for the iPhone -- Apple is unlikely to cede precious mobile real estate to Facebook). The last thing Facebook needs to be doing is throwing its weight behind a chosen handset maker (HTC in this case) while ignoring all the manufacturers that are competing for buyer affections.
So we'll see what kind of traction Facebook gets. I'm eager to spend time playing with Facebook Home. And I do have questions: Will there be a noticeable battery hit? Will I tire of the Facebook pictures that show up as the Cover Feed? You never know what you're going to get, of course, and besides, I'm also not sure I'm ready to give up the image of my family that currently serves as my phone/lock screen photograph in favor of ever-changing pictures, no matter how good-looking, from my Facebook friends.
And also left unsaid was how Facebook may eventually try to monetize Facebook Home. There was no mention of ads showing up on your phone's home screen. While I don't expect that to happen, at least anytime soon, it is worth raising the question of what Facebook's intentions are.
But the biggest question of all: Do you like Facebook well enough to have it in your face every time you peek at your home screen?
HTC senior partner Michael Goodwin holds an HTC First phone showing the Facebook Home interface. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on the screen.
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