Why the Facebook Phone will be a flop

Facebook Home creates an always-on Facebook environment that will likely drive consumers away

So the Facebook Phone is officially out of the bag and there's a lot to dissect. Of course, it's not so much a phone as it is a slickly designed layer that sits atop Android. Nevertheless, Facebook is increasingly showing off its design chops, but I'd like to tackle a more practical topic - just who, exactly, will be interested in an over-the-top, Facebook-centric phone to begin with?

I contend that positioning Facebook at the forefront of the smartphone user experience will work to drive people away, not attract consumers. Sure, it sounds nice when Mark Zuckerberg says that phones should be about people and not apps, but what he's really saying is that Facebook is an app that should always be running on a user's device.

Dan Frommer disagrees and put out a few theories as to who would be interested in a Facebook phone.

  • What about those millions of people who have bought Android phones — and some iPhones, probably — who don’t really care that they’re Android phones, or even smartphones?
  • The types of people who, every couple of years, go into the Verizon or AT&T shop and walk out with whatever newish thing the store rep says they should buy? (All those people who buy Android phones but don’t really show up in usage logs.)
  • Or even first-time smartphone buyers?

My guess is that many — most? — of these people are Facebook users, and could easily see some utility in having Facebook features highlighted on their phones. And — bonus — Facebook’s software looks good. Much better than the junk that ships with typical low-end Android devices.

Boom. Done. Easy, defensible purchase, assuming the price is right.

This sounds great on the surface, but demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding as to how people use smartphones and how people use Facebook.

Not to sound completely lame, but I've been on Facebook since 2004. I used it back when it was limited to students with a .edu address. I used it back when users could actually delete the entire contents of another user's wall. I used it back when "Too close for missiles. Switching to guns" would appear at the bottom of the screen.

I say that to say this - I really really enjoy Facebook. I've been using it for nearly nine years, check in on it every single day, and love keeping up with close friends and acquaintences.

That said, having Facebook on all day, everyday is not a feature most anyone will find utility in. Sure, the implementation looks good, but the practical result is overbearing.

While many consumers don't care what type of phone they're using, they do care about Facebook permeatting their entire user experience.

For instance, Facebook writes of its chat heads feature:

With chat heads you can keep chatting with friends even when you're using other apps. When friends send you messages, a chat head appears with your friend's face, so you see exactly who you're chatting with. Messages reach you no matter what you're doing - whether you're checking email, browsing the web, or listening to music.

Is that a feature or a threat?

Here's the thing about apps, and on a larger scale, technology that people love - no matter how much someone is into something, they don't want it thrust in their face 24/7.

It's why Gmail chat has an invisible mode. It's why iOS 6 has a "Do not disturb" mode. It's why people put their phones on silent. It's why people sometimes turn off Facebook Chat for good.

Yes, people want to feel connected, but they want to feel connected on their own terms.

With Facebook Home, it's the Facebook newsfeed 24/7.

From the moment you wake up your phone you become immersed in cover feed. Cover feed replaces the lock screen and home screen. It's 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. These are the beautiful, immersive experiences that you get through Home.You might have missed these updates before, but now they're a central part of the Home experience. Since Home is both your lock screen and home screen, the content comes right to you. You can flip through to see more stories, and double tap to like what you see.

I really fail to see how having Facebook's newsfeed as both the lock screen and home screen appeals to anybody. Forget being a feature, it sounds more like a prison.

As for being a window into what's happening with friends, that may be true, but it will hardly be the "beautiful, immersive experience" that Facebook claims it will be.

I don't think it comes as a shock to anybody that a lot of the photos on Facebook are anything but beautiful and inspiring. Sure, some are. But there are also boatloads of funny photos, photos that aren't so funny, ridiculous links, interesting links, and status updates that you might not really want occupying space on your home and lockscreen. I may be interested in the top 10 new restaurants to try in Hong Kong or photos of my friend's vacation to Disney World, but not necessarily at 7am in the morning when I'm just waking up.

Facebook also writes of Cover Feed:

Cover feed 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.

Yes, it can be that. I don't want to shock Mark Zuckerberg or anything, but those in-between moments are also great for seeing what's happening on Twitter, checking sports scores on ESPN, playing a bit of Angry Birds, checking email, catching up on some Texts, or even just browsing the web.

The beauty of the smartphone revolution is that it gives users choice. They have the web at their fingertips alongside a slew of apps. Fire up the homescreen and the world is at your disposal.

Fire up a Facebook Phone and it's Facebook. All. The. Time.

People love Facebook. I just don't think enough people love it enough to Facebook Home a rousing success.

One final point - there are also privacy considerations to take into account. Om Malik lays some insightful points down here, but I'd also like to add that if a user's news feed is available on both the homescreen and lockscreen, it's effectively available to anyone who picks up their phone.

It goes without saying that folks will certainly download Facebook Home to give it a spin. But purchasing a device like the HTC First with Facebook Home pre-installed? Let's just say I predict dismal sales figures.

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