Facebook Home Isn’t a Stateside Hit on Launch Day — Here’s Why That Doesn’t Matter
The new software — which users can download to turn their regular Android phones into Facebook phones — was released to the Google Play store in the United States on Friday. Not more than a day has passed, and nearly half of the reviews for the release peg Home with a one-star satisfaction rating (that’s one out of five, the worst you can have).
So my question from a few weeks ago remains: Does anyone actually want a Facebook phone?
Perhaps, or perhaps not (personally, I don’t). But here’s the thing — if you live in the U.S. like I do, Facebook isn’t too worried about how you answer that question. Because this phone isn’t really for us.
Facebook Home is a play for the international market, the developing nations where traditional computer access is spotty, where mobile phones are fast becoming the medium of choice to access the Web, and where carriers are perfectly content charging sky-high data and SMS fees to their customers.
Some of this is clearly obvious. Android is the free, open, mobile OS slapped on partner manufacturer handsets. Because of that, waves of low-cost Android smartphones are invading the rest of the world, with Android holding some 75 percent of global market share, according to some estimates.
And many of those high-volume shipments are directed toward areas with the most growth potential for Facebook. India, for instance, is one of the largest homes to Android users in the entire world, and smartphone shipments to India are increasing sequentially every quarter. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent of the population belongs to Facebook. That’s fertile ground for expansion.
Facebook’s big pitch here: Free messaging and, eventually, voice calling services. One of the social giant’s biggest pushes over the last year or so has been for its Messenger app, the company’s way of usurping traditional SMS services by allowing Facebook users to send texts, photos, videos and email messages through the service. And last year, we saw the first seeds of Messenger expansion, as Facebook began testing free voice calling services in the U.S. and Canada through Messenger and its official Facebook app.
These are crucial offerings overseas where, unlike the U.S., data and SMS rates are high, and users are forced to pay increasingly large amounts of cash for less time spent on the Web. The more free services that Facebook can offer — like free texting, for example — the better chance it has to increase market share abroad.
That’s what Facebook Home aims to do, slapping Messenger and a never-ending stream of content front and center on the device’s home screen. Right now it’s available to download on a number of Android devices, but I’d imagine that at some point in the future, Facebook will offer a free, subsidized version after sticking ads inside the Cover Feed feature. (Mark my words.)
Here’s Facebook’s big problem: The smaller messaging app players like WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk and others are absolutely killing it in terms of market penetration. They, too, offer free messaging services, and each of those companies has a serious customer base — in the hundreds of millions — internationally.
They also have something that Facebook needs to work on — carrier relationships. WhatsApp has partnered with carriers across multiple continents, getting its app pre-installed on phones sold to customers directly out of the box. That’s a huge advantage, and a way to score potential viral sign-ups with every device sold. And the larger these messaging networks grow — all of which do far more than just simple messaging — the more difficult a time Facebook will have trying to break in abroad.
So hate on, haters — stateside users can eschew Facebook Home to their heart’s content. We’re not the ones Facebook is concerned with.