Facebook has made its much-anticipated mobile announcement, but instead of unveiling a branded phone as some had expected, the social network unveiled Android super-app Facebook Home.
As the company revealed, Home isn't a full operating system – it runs on Android – and neither is it a fork of Android.
But Home also offers far deeper integration with phone features than the existing Facebook app for Android. It essentially co-opts many of the key features of Google's Android OS.
For example, Home replaces the phone's home screen and lock screen with a Facebook feed. Home will also integrate SMS with Facebook chat feeds in a single window, and include its own apps launcher.
Due to these unique characteristics, Wired's Alexandra Chang has dubbed Facebook home an “apperating system,” as in a mixture between an app and a full OS.
Facebook plans to offer Home for free on the Google Play store from next Friday. It currently runs on several newer smartphones from Samsung and HTC.
But Facebook is also working with HTC on the first device with Home pre-installed. The HTC First will launch on the same day as Home. This might indicate that the next stage of Facebook's mobile strategy will involve trying to have Home pre-installed on as many devices as possible.
Ahead of the announcement, rumors had been circulating that Facebook planned to design its own phone hardware. But as CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out, the Home strategy could make more sense for the company.
“A great phone might sell 10 or 20 million units at best. Our community as more than 1 billion people in it,” Zuckerberg said at the announcement of Home. “Even if we did a good job selling a phone, we would only be serving 1% to 2% of our community, and we want to do more than that.”
But while Facebook's existing Android mobile app is extremely popular, Analysys Mason principal analysts Ronan de Renesse and Stephen Sale noted that it is in the company's interest to become more deeply integrated with a smartphone's features.
“Facebook could increase its app engagement (daily usage per user of the app) six-fold if it were to become the default communication platform for telephony, messaging and email,” the analysts said in a statement released prior to the Home announcement.
It is therefore also in Facebook's interest to have Home pre-installed on a wide range of devices. But it remains to be seen whether Samsung – arguably the most important player in the Android ecosystem today – will be willing to forego its own customizations to the Android experience.