Facebook’s play to own the mobile home page fails, like others before

May 15, 2013

The battle for the mobile homepage appears to have claimed another victim, with Facebook Home looking like a flop a month after its launch.

If the history of the personal computer is any indication, whoever owns the homepage in mobile will have a significant advantage over competitors for a long time. This is why Facebook, mobile operators and handset manufacturers are bringing out solutions intended to be the first thing users see when they unlock their phones.

“I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say Facebook would prefer a better outcome, but Facebook sees this as a lost battle, not a lost war,” said John Haro, chief technology officer at Vibes, Chicago, IL.

“Facebook likely has a much larger strategy for ‘owning’ the smartphone experience, and this was just the first in what I think was a well-designed if not successful attempt,” he said.

“I’d expect them to continue to develop Home, possibly making a complete operating system of their own.”

Poor reviews
Facebook introduced Facebook Home at the beginning of April with a big press launch and promises of making it easier for Android users to interact directly with friends from the home screen and lock screen of their devices.

With social networking on the most popular activities on mobile devices, Facebook Home sounded like a good idea.

However, a month later it appears that service is not catching on in any significant way with consumers. Facebook Home only recently reached one million downloads from Google’s Play store and has received numerous negative reviews from users.

One of the biggest complaints appears to be that Home diminishes the customization and effectiveness of apps and widgets on Android. Facebook’s failure to account for the popularity of widgets on Android appears to be a major oversight.

In another bad sign for the service, AT&T has lowered the price on the HTC First, which was introduced at the same time as Facebook Home and comes with the service already set up on the phone.

Originally available at $99.99, AT&T has lowered the price of the HTC First to 99 cents and is rumored to be considering dumping it completely.

First impressions
While Facebook Home does not currently have advertising, the company said ads would be coming, pointing to how this was supposed to be another way that the social network was planning to bolster its mobile monetization strategy.

However, with Facebook Home not taking the world of mobile users by storm, how much of boost it will provide is unclear. This could be a problem for Facebook, which is under significant pressure to build its mobile advertising strategy as users increasingly migrate to their smartphones and tablets to interact.

Facebook is not the first company to try to own the mobile home page experience.

Handset manufacturers have already tried to claim the homepage with limited success, such as HTC with its Sense and Blink Feed user interfaces as well as Motorola with MotoBlur and Samsung with TouchWiz.

Owning that first impression is also one of the reasons why Apple maintains such tight control of its iOS ecosystem.

“Securing the first impression, that log-on experience was an absolute game-changer for those who were able to do it in the PC world – Yahoo, AOL, and then later Google,” said Dave Gwozdz, CEO of Mojiva, New York. “Many portal deals were struck to ensure traffic flow from those starting screens.

“To date, the mobile operators have tried to make the screen interesting and have largely failed,” he said. “First it was with native apps, then it was with pre installed partners.

“Whoever is effective at securing the initial eyeballs will have a significant advantage for years to come.”

Mobile monetization
While mobile advertising was a problem for Facebook last year, the company has started to see some significant gains in mobile advertising so far this year and continues to tweak its offerings to make mobile ads more relevant and targeted.

However, the consensus is that Facebook as well as its competitors have still failed to crack the nut on delivering optimal mobile advertising experiences.

With mobile display advertising expected to grow substantially over the next few years, Facebook was betting on Home to help it deliver more eyeballs and a better experience for advertisers.

“There are challenges with mobile display advertising, but being able to put ads into the ‘stream’ of information of Facebook or Google Now is highly effective,” Vibes’ Mr. Haro said.

“Owning the operating system, and therefore the homepage, is critical for any large publisher to control that ecosystem and monetize it,” he said.

“This is why Apple primarily sells consumer electronic devices, but holds tight control of its ecosystem to ostensibly protect the consumer, but certainly to protect its own interests and potential revenue streams.”

Early in the game
While Facebook Home may look like a bust so far, it is still early in the game and the social network’s executives said at the launch of the service that they would continue to focus on updating the experience.

With the stakes so high, Facebook is likely to do just that as it looks to get the overall user experience right and attract more users.

“I wouldn’t let Facebook’s first foray into the homepage determine its fate here,” said Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics, Boston.

“Like any good agile tech company, they got something out to market quickly, and I’m sure they are learning a lot from the experience, and as a result, the next act is likely to improve,” he said.

“Everyone will continue wanting to be front and center with the end user, but in the end, consumers have thus far shown a preference for the native Android experience from Google, which is consistent as Android users change and upgrade their devices.”

Source: Mobile Marketer

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