Facebook Phones Play on the Internet of Things

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor & Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — April 07, 2013

“Today we’re finally going to talk about that Facebook phone,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook, at a press event on April 4. “Or more accurately, we’re going to talk about how you can turn your Android phone into a great simple, social device.”

Facebook has confirmed to Mobile Enterprise that “Home,” the company’s new home screen, will be available via Google Play on April 12 for certain Android devices: the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung GALAXY S III and Samsung GALAXY Note II. “Home will also work on the forthcoming Samsung GALAXY S4 and HTC One, and on more Android devices in the coming months,” a representative said.
Home will also require utilizing a “family of apps” from Facebook to make it work. Expect a tablet version soon as well.

Or, users can purchase the HTC First, the first smartphone with the new Facebook home screen pre-loaded and optimized. Selling for $99.99, the device, available in four colors starting April 12, will only be sold through AT&T. The carrier is currently accepting pre-orders.

A Different Kind of Nexus
Peter Chou of HTC called the HTC First “a great opportunity to bring mobile and social together even more closely.” This plays on the “Internet of Things” and what Gartner terms, “the nexus of forces” where social, mobile, cloud and information converge and become interdependent.”

Chris Howard, Managing VP for Gartner said that the nexus is being “aggressively” driven by people to create a new “paradigm.”  It’s a shift of control into the hands of the users like we have never seen before – an extension of consumerization.

“What this means for business is, they have to be able to absorb the way users – their consumers and their employees — want to work and build the systems to support them,” he said.

Why Now?
Facebook’s mission, Zuckerberg said, is to give power to share and make the world more open and connected. Twenty percent of our time on phones are spent on Facebook, he noted.  Today’s phones are designed around apps, not people, he said. “We want to flip that around.”

Zuckerberg noted that computers have been designed on apps and tasks for more than 30 years, adding that computers also used to be expensive, clunky devices. Although the hardware designs have changed over the decades, the UI model, dating back to Windows 1.0 from the early 1980s, is still largely the same, he said.

Why do we need to go into all those apps to stay connected with the people we care about? he asked.

The company wants to share the world with each other, but it was not interested in “forking” Android, an open source platform, to make that happen. Nor did Facebook want to build an OS that only some people might be able to use. Instead, they wanted to serve more than a small percentage of the Facebook’s billion-strong community. Hence, the Home “overlay” for Android users, an OS that dominates the smartphone market.

New Opportunity for Business?
When it comes to mobile workers, do they actually care about having a Facebook homescreen? “Employees are likely to want access to Facebook Home on their mobile devices in the future but it won’t be critical for them,” said Ronan de Renesse, Analysys Mason Limited, Principal Analyst, by email to Mobile Enterprise. “Key Facebook features can be accessed via other means (e.g. browser and other apps)."

If the concept of not going “home” via a button sounds vaguely familiar, along with having access to social and work at the same time, it’s because this was addressed by BlackBerry via the Z10’s Hub. In addition, Blackberry 10 further connects social and business, by pulling information about connections from social outlets, in this case, Linkedin, into, for example a meeting on the calendar.

What does all this connection accomplish for business? At least in terms of the nexus of forces, Howard says it “levels the playing field.” It makes it easier for “agile companies to leap frog into the opportunity space.”

He concluded, “Organizations that don’t pay attention to the nexus miss an opportunity to expand in new markets, to reach new customers and to engage with customers and employees in a way that advances the business.”

Someone may want to tell Apple about this, since while Zuckerberg did not rule out a future partnership, he cited that company’s closed ecosystem versus the open source of Android as one of the reasons Facebook went with that system first.

HTC Comeback
Despite unveiling the HTC One earlier this year, the manufacturer is clearly lagging behind its competitors. Is HTC banking on Facebook’s popularity to come from behind?

“Definitely,” said de Renesse. “HTC is also the handset manufacturer the most desperate for sales and therefore the most likely to accept a Facebook Home preinstall. However, it won’t last long as Facebook Home will also be available on Samsung devices as soon as it’s available on Google Play.”

He noted that the HTC First will be targeted mainly at the mid-end smartphone user segment and relatively young smartphone users in western markets.

According to Facebook representatives, a planned marketing campaign will use a variety of channels including television and co-marketing with partners in addition to educational websites and demo videos on Facebook. 

“Just like our clients, we’re working to create an integrated marketing campaign across Facebook and other channels, and we’re looking forward to putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes,” said a company representative by email.


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