Have Facebook created the future of mobile phone software or just a good looking app?
Let me just start off by saying how great I think Facebook Home looks. Ever since the Facebook Camera app and more recently with the News Feed redesign Facebook have shown a great new mobile design ethic. Moving away from the clunky, out dated layout that has plagued the desktop version of Facebook (and for a long time the mobile app) towards a simple and elegant look is a strong move for the team. Home amplifies this on mobile and truly shows that they are now firmly a mobile first technology company… in theory. They of course do a lot more behind the scenes. I do think however that there are some issues that I will outline further down.
I actually think their more comedic (and true to life) ad that they showed on the live stream demo was a better advert for the new product but they haven’t made it available yet.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Home is beautiful piece of software design. I’m not just talking about the bold way it uses imagery either. Chat Heads is such a brilliant, entertaining and unobtrusive new way to handle messaging and notifications are equally great. Both of these features show a real maturity when it comes to the way Facebook approach mobile design and I hope other tech companies have taken notice.
TechCrunch have a great piece that quickly sums up Facebook Home’s four advantages over stock Android.
Facebook Mobile App
I actually think that Facebook have designed a far better version of their mobile app with Home.The new News Feed looks great but frankly this blows it out of the water on the design front.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that those who adopt Facebook Home spend more time in there than the Facebook mobile app. This could well then cause the FB team to rethink their mobile app again and redesign all versions of their mobile app to look more like Home (if they aren’t already). In the demo that they showed moving from cover feed to Facebook mobile was quite a jarring visual experience.
Cover Feed Relies On Your Friends
I have a real bug bare with these tech demos, they aren’t realistic. Everything we have seen uses Facebook’s very strong visual design for photos and videos. The slightly washed out, high res, enhanced eyes (sometimes with a dog or cat) smiley people imagery is wonderful to look at…but very few of my friends, and I am going to guess very few of yours, are that good at photography or have access to the equipment to help them get those effects.
Cover feed will make some of those bad photos look better, much like Instagram is able to make a photo of my feet at a train station look arty and cool, but it won’t be great for everything. Memes, babies, food, nights out, babies, that weird moment when a friend caught another friend pulling a strange face…and babies…will be front and centre. This isn’t a bad thing and I’m not really complaining as I enjoy seeing most of those things, but I know people who do complain and unless they exercise that ability to hide people from their News Feed, they aren’t going to enjoy cover feed as much as the team at Facebook would like. However there is that there EdgeRank that could fix this potential problem. I’ll get on to that in a bit.
Of course this is also one of the great things about Facebook Home. Putting your friends right at the very start of every mobile experience you have and getting to see what they are doing is very powerful. Work productivity may take a hit…
Changing The Way We Use Mobile
The design stuff is ultimately superficial. What this really represents is Facebook’s attempt to change the way we use mobile phones. By placing our friends, family and other things at the very heart of the devices rather than within an app (or series of apps) allows us to get to what matters to us as individuals, as human beings.
Now this isn’t a big shift. We all tend to go straight to messaging or social applications before any other on our mobile devices. What Facebook are doing is creating a better experience. Your friends are right there from the beginning, you don’t need to find the app and scroll through. It is seamless and in a way an extension of their concept around frictionless sharing. Open your phone and see what your closest friends are up to.
You can bet this is only the beginning however. What’s to stop Facebook from adding cover feed customization? Showcasing news from your favourite website? It is quite a compelling use case to place a better version of the News Feed right in front of you at all times.
Also what about mobile commerce? Sure there are plenty of companies vying for a piece of this pie, but by putting themselves at the core of the mobile experience are Facebook placing themselves in an even better position? Perhaps Home will one day even react to your surroundings and provide updates about the store you are in or a restaurant you might like.
I’m interested to understand a bit more about how cover feed selects what you are shown. It absolutely is not going to be everything from your News Feed. From what I understand it will be taking only updates with imagery into your cover feed but even then I think it will use a harsher version of EdgeRank.
My thinking around this is I believe Facebook will only want to serve up the content that you are really, really interested in and not things like that weird update from a friend you haven’t seen in years. The friends and family who are your ‘close ties’ according to EdgeRank and the pages you interact with most will likely be the only things you see. Perhaps it will be more relaxed than that but I do not think it will show much else.
Facebook will be placing ads within cover feed. They haven’t shown what they will look like or if there will be any notable difference from your friends updates, but they will be in there eventually.
From an individual users perspective this isn’t the best of news. It also will not help Facebook’s reputation with a user base who already do not like the way Facebook places ads in their News Feed. Ultimately however there hasn’t been a mad rush to leave Facebook because of the ads and so the biggest social network will continue to move forward with their money making concepts and plans.
Personally I do not mind the ads but I am aware that my job likely shows where I may have bias, despite trying hard to keep an open mind and view things from the point of view of people outside the marketing world. Speaking with my brand/marketing hat on I believe it is our job to do the best we can to ensure that users/fans get the best experience and we don’t place ugly designed and poorly worded ads and pieces of content in their News Feed. I hope Facebook will not allow brands who do not create great content to appear in the cover feed. We need to work hard to create great and relevant content that doesn’t look out of place. I think Sponsored Stories will likely play a key role in this as we know Facebook want to move towards a Page content first ad strategy.
Following on from this, again this wasn’t shown in the demo, all brands Page content will need to have a strong, mobile first, design edge. Zuckerberg only hinted at Page content showing up in the feed at the start of his presentation but it will definitely be there. Those brands who put a lot of time and effort into designing relevant and great content will again come out on top.
I think the HTC First (nice name by the way) is aimed at teenagers. This is just my first thought from seeing the design of the device, so I will be interested to see how they market it.
A lot has been made lately that Facebook is not really attracting, or if it does it isn’t retaining, young people. Teenagers are increasingly more attracted to the likes of Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat. Strong visually based, expressive forms of online media that allow teenagers to feel like they own, or are in control, of their online presence. With Facebook Home and the HTC First I believe Facebook are attempting to show young people that this is where they should be spending more of their time. Whether or not this will work is yet to be seen.
Will Apple, Google (Nexus) or Microsoft allow Facebook Home on their devices? Of course they won’t. But you can bet that they are about to beg, borrow or steal some of the ideas. I think in the first instance we’ll be seeing something very similar to Chat Heads turning up on all mobile operating systems in the near future. Whether or not Apple or Microsoft will allow even further integration with Facebook’s underlying API will be interesting to see. I’d put a bet on iOS 7 having some kind of Home like experience integrated with Facebook and Twitter.
If you think Google will allow Facebook Home on their Nexus devices I think you are very mistaken. The flag ship devices for the big G are built for the “pure” Google experience. Google+ will likely have some further integration with the next version of Android. Also there will likely be some conversations over the next few days between Google, device manufacturers and mobile carrier execs to ensure that Facebook Home doesn’t become a dominant force over their own social integration.
I like Home. I think it is a great product and a fantastic way to further integrate the platform in our lives. Windows Phone may well have boasted about putting “what is important” at the centre of your mobile device but I think Facebook are the first to do something significant and really push this concept with this excellent piece of software.
Mobile is incredibly personal. It is a one on one experience with you and a device, a device that many of us feel an odd feeling of loss and disconnect when we misplace it. Facebook needs to enhance that personal experience by heavily filtering what you see in cover feed so that it is just the stuff that matters. It needs to make Home a product that we will love and want on all our devices in the future.
Facebook’s first big job is now to convince people that they need Home in their lives. Bring on April 12th.
Whilst you wait check out the below videos from The Verge. The first a quick recap of the event and the second a great in depth look at Facebook Home.