The mainstream has had little reason to care that Android gives developers much more customization freedom than iOS. But if Facebook’s fabled Android homescreen is a hit, the stubbornness of Apple’s closed mobile platform could be framed as a drawback after years of its cohesive design and ease being seen as assets.
Cheapness and handset/carrier choice are two of the biggest factors convincing people to pick up Android phones today. There’s its premier integration of Google’s app suite and the “rebel without an iPhone” attitude too. But Android’s flexibility for app developers has been more of a selling point for geeks and early adopters than for the average Joe.
Meanwhile, the straight forward “it just works” aspect of iOS that leans on its rigidity has made it a popular introduction to smartphones for hundreds of millions of people. There just hasn’t been a killer brand name app to grab the mainstream’s attention that depends on Android’s cooperative architecture and that iOS won’t support. No one has forced the issue of open vs closed on the common man.
But six years after the iPhone’s debut, the average mobile consumer has matured. They crave more personalization through homescreen widgets and custom launchers. They want to make their phone truly theira. The mobile world may finally have reached the turning point where the benefits of Android’s customization outweigh the benefits of iOS’ simplicity. And it’s Facebook homescreen for Android that could crystallize this moment.
Last week, Facebook sent out invites to a big press event to “see our new home on Android”. My sources got us the scoop that Facebook plans to unveil a new homescreen for Android that pipes in its news feed content and notifications for instant access. We’re told this experience will be debuted on an HTC handset running a version of Android that’s been modified by Facebook. The homescreen replacement is also likely to make its way to other handsets, either in the form a launcher app that can run on standard Android builds, or through Facebook partnerships with other OEMs.
The kicker is that Facebook’s homescreen cannot run on iOS as it exists today.
Now, for any of this to actually alter the mobile landscape, Facebook “Home” as it may be called will have to be a real success. Not just “Oh that looks cool”, but “I need to have that on my phone”. A lot people will never say that, because they just don’t care that much about Facebook. Beyond that, it may be tough to add a lot of value on top of the full-featured Facebook For Android app that’s just a few taps away.
Still, it’s possible that Facebook’ heads up display, a sixth sense for your social life, could be good enough to shift the balance in the Game Of Phones. Even if not directly or immediately, the mere existence of Facebook Home could bring the open/closed debate into the sphere of public consciousness. In that sense, it could at least begin to generate momentum for Android’s “do as you please” ecosystem.
Apple is typically resistant to diverging from its roadmap to head off potential threats. As I’ve said, Apple doesn’t care what competitors do. But if it stays locked down, we might outgrow its hand-holding. For all Google’s talk off Android being open, it could take Facebook to make us realize its liberty we really want.