I’ve been thinking about the Facebook Home launch this week, particularly in the context of Asia and a couple of things stick out.
1) The move is Asia-inspired. That’s to say that forking Android is something that has been done in Asia more than anywhere else.
Baidu, China’s top search engine, offers an Android ROM that, when installed, switches out Google’s services for its own. It’s available to download and is pre-loaded on some phones. Equally, KDDI in Japan already has an Android ‘launcher’, as they’re called.
2, and more importantly) Facebook Home won’t kill the messaging services in Asia that are increasingly rivaling Facebook in the continent (despite the fact that Android, which FB Home is exclusively built for, is Asia’s dominant mobile operating system).
The reason for my skepticism is that Facebook Home is little more than an amped up version of Facebook, which aims to blanket over the competition, rather than ‘the answer to the problem’, i.e. differentiate its services from the rest.
Enders' analyst Benedict Evans sums the key issues up nicely in his latest (and much recommended) end-of-week newsletter, saying:
Home itself is interesting: I’m not sure how many people will want to give up control of their home screen to receive whatever random image their friends have shared (even apart from the scope for pranks). Unlike the launch demos, my friends are not models who only post beautifully shot images of themselves on the beach (sadly). On a deeper level, it seems to me it appeals much more to people who already live in FB than those who’ve already either got bored or adopted other competing services. In other words, FB Home puts FB Chat in my face if I use it, but it doesn’t address the reasons why I might be using Whatsapp instead.
I wrote a post earlier this year outlining the benefits that Facebook would see if it launched new content initiatives for Messenger – such as dedicated gaming experience and video calling – and I think that this approach would draw FB in-line with its competitors in Asia. If it were to compete in their spaces, it could use its considerable strength (chiefly 1 billion plus monthly active users) to lure the best content – stickers, games, etc – and rival the competition on quality of service. It would also gain an early march on Viber, WhatsApp, Kik and other Western services that don’t yet offer these advanced features.
Facebook has certainly taken a different route with Home, but – more generally – it remains unclear what, if anything (bar another acquisition), it can do to rival the ‘unbundling’ apps.
I agree that Facebook Home will strengthen its appeal among its already dedicated users, but those are not the real issue for the company, in my opinion.
I’d be more concerned at the folks that share photos, IM chats, video calls and play games over apps like WeChat, Line and Kakao Talk. These activities – once done on Facebook – are taking time away from the social network, and they are gaining steam in Asia were three services boast more than 100 million, with messaging app downloads topping Facebook user numbers in Japan, Korea and (more obviously) China. (China’s WeChat has 300 million and its rise is causing a similar problem for Twitter-like Sina Weibo, a revolutionary service in its own right, which is seeing the length of its average user session decline, largely due to WeChat.)
Yet, there’s nothing in Facebook Home to bring that ‘lost’ time and users back to Facebook.