Big whoop, there’s a "Facebook phone.” That was my first reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement last week.
Can you blame me? The Facebook phone isn’t even a phone; it’s an “apperating system” that you either install on your Android phone or that comes (or will come) preinstalled on certain Android devices.
The apperating system, or “super app,” if I’m to be Palo Alto-cally correct, is called “Home.” It takes over the lock screen and home screen of your phone. In exchange for giving up your current skins and all those wonderful app icons, you’ll get what Facebook calls "a window into what's happening with your friends -- friends finishing a bike race, your family sharing a meal or an article about your favorite sports team. “
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any extra distractions when I “wake up” my phone.
Suppose, hypothetically, that, in the not so distant future, I pick up my “Facebook phone” with the intention of calling my husband to wish him a safe overseas flight. Before I hit the dialer, I see that my sister has pasted the link to a “Must See! Watch NOW” video on my Facebook wall.
Instead of making my call, as I had planned, I follow the link to find a video of her dog climbing a tree. It’s cool, so I start showing it to everyone at the office. They’re impressed. Next I share it with my dog-loving friends on Facebook.
Meanwhile my husband’s plane takes off and we won’t speak for at least twelve hours. When his flight finally lands and he asks why I didn’t call him, it will sound like I care more about the dog video than I do about him, or that I have A.D.D. issues. Neither is true, but both would appear as possibilities when there’s a Facebook phone in my hands.
Now clearly this wasn’t Facebook’s intention. The phone’s “cover feed,” according to the company, is for those in-between moments -- like waiting in line at the grocery store or between classes -- when you want to see what's going on in your world.
Yeah, right. Facebook wants my (and your) attention all of the time. Those “in between moments” will, no doubt, also occur when you are driving your car, walking down the street, sitting at dinner, listening to a lecture, watching a movie, at a concert and so on ...
People who actively use Home will not be able to take their eyes off of it.
Who loses? The people who want to connect with you in the real world.
Add to that, that Home also includes “chat heads” which consist of pictures of your decapitated friends. Next to their heads there is a message box for Facebook messages or texts. They’ll pop on your screen whenever your friends want to chat with you and vice versa.
Facebook chat heads in action
Now if something “important” happens in “your world” (that’s a Facebook term), which is defined by a post on your timeline, you'll receive a notification and a profile picture. To open the notification, you’ll tap on it. If it’s not as important or urgent as Home’s designers might have thought, you can swipe it away and see it in your feed later.
Oh joy! I get to be distracted and/or deal with the same piece of information twice.
All of this and the ads haven’t even yet entered the picture. Though they won’t be there initially, Facebook says that they will eventually start to appear as part of my newsfeed. I can see it now, between my “likes” and my location, I will become “bargain bait” to every merchant and service provider within spitting range. They will all have a “flash sale” or special coupon to offer.
So, now that I’ve traded my attention for omnipresent Facebook connectedness, I have to ask myself if I’m also willing to give up my privacy; Facebook has a great track record in respecting that, right?
Tech analyst and GigaOm publisher Om Malik writes that “ If you install this, (AKA “get” the Facebook phone) then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action,” with the help of my phone’s GPS.
Can I turn it off? Sure, but as with all things Facebook, this is easier said than done.
Besides, what’s the big deal about giving up a little attention and a whole lot of privacy for the coolness of a Facebook phone?
People who read, write and think about technology day in and day out can weigh the pros and the cons, but what about the majority of people who don’t?
People whose “experience of the internet” = Facebook.
Why wouldn’t they want “HOME” to be their “Mobile Home” or their only home, for that matter?
Not only that, but the first Android devices to come with “HOME” are priced under US$ 100.00, making those phones the coolest mobile devices within the reach of the masses.
And if the phone’s UI proves to be as modern as it looks, teens (whether their parents have money, or not) will want the phone too, and they’ll be better equipped to cost justify it.
Finally, though the popularity of Facebook and the coolness of the iPhone haven’t vied for attention until now, the game changes on Friday when the first phones with “Facebook Home” hit the market.
Apple potentially stands to lose even more marketshare until their cheaper iPhone hits the market.