Speculation leading up to today's Facebook Android announcement painted a picture of significant disruption, including Facebook's own branded device running a customized version of Android — potentially implying a Facebook app and content store and its own distinct retail sales model. But none of that makes sense for Facebook. Facebook wants to put itself at the front of the user experience for as many of its customers as possible and to make Facebook more elemental to its customers' experience. It has made strides in that direction with its integration into iOS 6, BB10, and even Windows Phone, but it has leapt further forward today with its new Android Home application, which enables:
- An all-Facebook home screen.
- "Chat heads" — a Facebook wrapper around communications.
- A custom app launcher.
The new HTC device is really just a showcase — demanding that its customers purchase new hardware to realize this more Facebook-centric experience would have been a fool's errand. Rather, Facebook users who own an Android phone (initially a handful of HTC and Samsung phones in the US, expanding to other devices running at minimum 3.x versions of Android) will be able to download the new Facebook Home app and put Facebook at the center of their mobile experience.
It's clear that Facebook wants to be the focus of its users' mobile experience, but is that desire mutual? Do customers really want that? Color us doubtful. Consumers around the world rely on a range of communications tools and applications, Facebook being only one — and in markets outside the US, it’s far from a dominant one. According to data shared with us by Mobidia, time spent in the Facebook app accounts for less than 9% of total device time in the US and is far outstripped in places like Spain and Brazil by time spent in the popular WhatsApp messaging app:
What does this mean for Facebook's role in the broader ecosystem battle being waged among Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others? While Facebook has a strong loyalty gravitational pull, that force spans ecosystems; it is not a competing ecosystem of its own.
Finally, where's the money in this? Since Facebook's business model is almost exclusively advertising-based, Facebook must envision a radical shift in the future chain of commerce — moving awareness and discovery from search to social, powered by Facebook's trove of personal information to enrich the value of the ads it enables. Such a disruption in behavior will take a long time to obtain.