Should you install Facebook Home?

Facebook Home Lock ScreenOn April 4th, Facebook announced it’s new mobile initiative, Facebook Home, which will be available April 12th pre-installed on the HTC First or as a download from the Google Play store (for supported devices).

What is Facebook Home?
It’s an Android Launcher, which, in Webopedia’s terms, is the part of the Android user interface that lets users customize the home screen, launch mobile apps, make phone calls, and perform other tasks on Android devices. Every Android phone has a built-in launcher application, but there are numerous launchers available in the Google Play Store (see here), and Facebook will add to that list.

What are the features?
I don’t want to get into too many details here since they’ve been reviewed in the tech blogosphere by Gizmodo, Mashable, and Engadget, but the short summary is that it will provide a streamlined version of your news feed called Cover Feed, integrate with your phone’s contacts, make it easy to message your contacts through Facebook, and simplify sharing updates and photos, even easier than their Android app.

Why develop a launcher?
Facebook Home App LauncherFrom a user perspective, Facebook has created a launcher to provide the user with a more engaging Facebook experience on their phone. While reviews are a bit mixed, I’m sure that Facebook will continue to improve the interface based on usage and user feedback.

From Facebook’s perspective, it wants to increase time spent on its social network in order to collect more data so it can generate more revenue through mobile advertising. By coupling your location with your Facebook interactions, Facebook will be able to target you with more relevant ads. In other words, the ads will be very lucrative as advertisers will be able to target not only you but also your intentions. For example, imagine arranging lunch plans with friends using Facebook Home, and while you are near a restaurant shortly thereafter, you are targeted with an ad for half-price off your meal or a free dessert. In other words, be prepared to be targeted if you use Facebook Home, which may not be such a bad thing if the ads are highly relevant.

Should you install it?
If you are a fan of Facebook and/or a heavy Facebook user, then you should download and try it out. I would only caution you that Facebook will collect even more details about you, which isn’t different than what Google or Apple does with their operating system, but may be a little unnerving given how cavalier Facebook has been with users’ privacy and data in the past.

If you don’t use Facebook much or are concerned about privacy, then you should stay away. While I would like to try it to evaluate the interface, I’m not going to install it. I’m going to rely on reviews from others because I don’t trust Facebook. I know that you can uninstall it, but the paranoid side of me is concerned that uninstalling won’t completely erase everything allowing Facebook to continue to collect data, which I’m not comfortable with. My views are similar to Om Malik of GigaOM, which he articulated way better than I can in this article. Even a hands on wasn’t able to convince him otherwise.

Facebook Home is an application for hard core Facebook users. Otherwise, I would recommend caution before installing the application and awareness of what Facebook’s end game is – to make money off of mobile advertisements using the data you provide them.

Mobile Market Wrap-Up, August 30

Things were a bit busy last week, and I’m still catching up on general happenings in the industry. A couple of items that caught my attention were the release of Mozilla’s mobile browser, codenamed Fennec, and the intention of Skyfire to release a version of their browser for the iPhone.

Why did these catch my attention? Well, earlier this year, Opera created quite a stir when it released its Opera Mini browser for the iPhone and then goaded Apple into approving it. Tech punidits were certain that Apple would reject it, but they didn’t. In hindsight, I’m not surprised.

I’ve used the Opera Mini browser on Android and seen it on the iPhone, and while it’s capable, it is not a replacement for the built-in browser. Over the last year, the stock Android browser has come a long way, and Safari for the iPhone has always been a good browser. Opera Mini can’t compete with either of these, and neither will Fennec or Skyfire.

The opportunity for third party browsers has passed. Today’s problem is not compressing web content for the mobile environment. The issue is providing the user with a relevant user experience over the mobile web. What do I mean by a relevant user experience? I mean a mobile website that takes advantage of the features of a mobile phone, such as the touchscreen and location-based capabilities, to present information and content that a user cares about when they’re mobile. For a real estate mobilesite it is searching for properties, for retail it is nearest locations and coupons, for restaurants it is reservations, directions and special offers. The point I’m making is pretty obvious: it’s not about trying to cram a website designed for a 24″ screen onto a 3″ screen, it’s about presenting content relevant to the mobile consumer in a usable manner.

Put simply, it’s not about the browser, it’s about the presentation of the content.

So while I am sure that the mobile browser technology from Mozilla, Skyfire, and Opera is top notch, my advice would be to stick with the stock browsers on your smartphone with one caveat. If your using a BlackBerry other than the Torch, any one of these three browsers is a huge step up from the old BlackBerry browser. The old BlackBerry browser can be summed up in one word – AWEFUL!

OK, enough of the rant. On a lighter note, a new smartphone app caught my eye this week called Bartab. It allows you to send an actual drink to a friend for a $1. You spend $1 to send your friend a mobile coupon for a drink that they redeem at the participating bar you specify. Your friend then has to pay an additional $1 to redeem the coupon. It’s been launched in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has. In particular, does it work as advertised?

Mobile Market Wrap-up for 2009

Devesh has been tied up for the last couple of weeks tying up things for the end of the year and traveling over the holidays, so I thought I would step in and provide a look back at the year that was in mobile and what to expect in 2010. Yes, it is a bit of cliché given that everyone does it, but I wanted to add our perspective on 2009.

Overall, it’s been a fun year. We started blogging back in March, not knowing what to expect. Luckily, it was a busy year in mobile, so we were never short of material to discuss. Here’s a sampling of the more interesting stories of the year:

Mobile internet or app?
The App Store absolutley exploded over the past year, with well over 100,000 apps available by the end of the year. The popularity of the App Store had everyone wanting to create an app for their product or brand, but we feel differently. The emergence of the mobile internet over the past year has made web apps every bit as good as apps for promoting and marketing brands and products. I predict that 2010 will be the turning point for the mobile internet and that web apps will become the dominant theme in mobile entering 2011. (For more background, see our mobile internet vs app series from earlier this year)

The rise of Android
Handset manufacturers finally embraced the Google-sponsored platform in 2009, and the arrival of the T-mobile MyTouch, HTC Hero, and Motorola Droid demonstrated the capabilities of the platform. Be prepared for a lot more Android activity in 2010.

Palm excited with the Pre, but botched the execution
Palm tried to recapture the market mojo it had with the Treo, but development kit delays, a poorly arranged exclusivity with the nations’s 3rd largest carrier Sprint, and a losing battle with Apple over iTunes syncing all contributed to the Pre’s less than stellar sales. Palm will try again in 2010 by launching the Palm Pre with Verizon at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show.

Motorola excited with the Droid, and delivered
Motorola, all but written off for dead in the handset market, created a huge stir with all the ads leading up to the November launch of the Droid. With the help of Verizon, Motorola delivered the best Android, and possible best overall, phone of the year. Sales of the device have been brisk, and customers of the nation’s largest phone network finally got a device to rival the iPhone.

Microsoft continued to fade into oblivion
With a lackluster launch of WinMo 6.5, and further delays to WinMo 7, Microsoft saw further losses in market share. In the court of perception, WinMo is now a distant challenger to Apple, Android and BlackBerry in the smartphone OS battles. Rumor has it that Microsoft is going to link Xbox live to WinMo 7, but that may be too little too late for the much and often maligned Redmond giant.

Battle of the behomeths I: Google vs Apple
Google and Apple started the year on friendly terms, but didn’t finish it that way. It started with Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app in the App Store, continued with Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s resignation from the Apple board in August, and then continued with a written sparring match with the FCC over the Google Voice rejection. It’s clear that companies once termed “frenemies” can officially drop the ‘fr’ from that title.

Battle of the behomeths II: Verizon vs AT&T
In preparation for its Droid launch, Verizon went straight after AT&T and Apple with a great set of commercials (“There’s a map for that”) and edgy Droid promotional ads. AT&T complained to the government about Verizon’s tactics, before finally relenting and striking back with an ad campaign of its own. The best AT&T could were a few not-so-funny Luke Wilson ads. So thankfully, Apple stepped in defended its most prized possession. I suspect that the end of 2009 was the only the beginning of this battle – I’m sure we’ll see a lot more AT&T/Verizon battles in 2010.

2009 was exciting, so what should we expect in 2010? Here’s a sampling:

  • Android rises – Reports have it that 50 or more handsets will be released in 2010 with Android. I expect 2010 to be the year that Android makes a dent in smartphone OS market share and challenges the iPhone for market dominance.
  • BlackBerry stagnates – RIM has been on a roll in 2009, but that will end in 2010. An aging product line and recent service woes are going to encourage people to start taking a serious look at Android and other alternatives.
  • Google goes “all-in” – Expect Google to use its warchest to make significant moves in the mobile space. Mobile will be bigger than the desktop. Google knows it, and they are not going to sit around and watch someone else dominate it – especially Apple or Microsoft.
  • Apple innovates, again – Let’s face it, the iPhone is great, but it is getting stale. A 3+ year old design is ancient in the mobile world. Apple will have something up its sleeve in 2010 – be it a new design, better software options, or a tablet of some sort.
  • Nokia struggles to find itself – Nokia, the giant of the mobile industry, is going through an identity crisis. The largest, and most dominant, handset maker in the world is losing mindshare at the high end but still dominates the low end. Can Nokia dominate both ends of the market? I don’t think so, and the sooner Nokia picks which end to focus on, the better off they’ll be.
  • Microsoft and Palm flounder – Neither will go away next year, but they’ll both continue bleeding. Microsoft has enough other business interests that it will continue to toil away and try to find an entry point in mobile. For Palm, an acquisition may be in the cards as it cannot continue to lose cash at its current rate and remain independent into 2011.
  • Apps lose their luster – With too many app stores and platforms to support, the viability of the app model will erode. Developers will move back to the web and the smartphone app will become an area of specialty development focused on games – web apps and the mobile internet will fill the void.
  • Expect the unexpected – In an explosive market like mobile, expect at least two or three things to happen that will be serious game changers that no one sees coming. Augmented reality, location-based services, and geo-targeted advertising come to mind, but I get the feeling there are a couple more ideas in mobile that will surprise us in 2010.

Thanks to everyone who followed and supported us in 2009. It’s been a great ride thus far, and we’re looking forward to a fun and exciting 2010.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2010.

The Mobile World According to Google

A great post was written earlier this week at TechcrunchIT by Google executive Vic Gundotra regarding mobile statistics and trends entitled “Follow the Mobile User”. Vic Gundotra is Google’s VP of Engineering for Mobile and Developer Products.

The article shows a recent snapshot of the growth in mobile internet usage and discusses some of the key issues that have slowed its growth. Some of the reasons for slow growth are self-inflicted by the carriers themselves with oppressive rate plans and handset software control, but some are related to the fundamental usability of internet sites on mobile devices. The post reinforces other statistics we have seen on mobile internet growth and usage as well as many of our beliefs on today’s limitations of the mobile internet.

While the data and the post paint a great picture for our mobile business, it is possible that Google could be presenting an optimistic picture of the mobile landscape with their post. Google has a strong underlying reason to see the mobile internet grow and to create hype about it – it’s another place for them to create ad revenues, and very profitable ad revenues at that. Mobile ad revenues have the potential to be highly profitable because they can be location-aware. In other words, based on where you access the mobile internet, you will be targeted with ads that are specific to businesses in the immediate area. For example, imagine you are looking at the internet on your phone and seeing ads for businesses that located right across the street from you.

I am certain that Google will tap into the location-based capabilities of mobile devices to provide location-aware ads on mobile internet sites, especially as revenue from traditional (desktop) internet advertising tops out. Google will look to find additional sources of ad revenue to fund growth. For the local businesses, mobile advertising will be an extremely valuable medium and will be a lot more relevant to small businesses than advertising on the traditional internet where you have no idea where the customer is located. I see location-based advertising as one of the primary reasons why Google entered the handset operating system market with its Android operating system. I would not be at all surprised if the Android operating system does not already have, or will have, the capability to locate your mobile device to serve up targeted, local advertisements.

Regardless of Google’s intentions, statistics and information from many other sources are pointing to similar growth rates in mobile data plan subscriptions, smartphone sales, and mobile internet usage. I have to admit, I am a bit curious as to how businesses of all sizes will embrace the mobile internet. Will they treat it as an extension of their current website? Will they treat it as a separate medium? It will definitely be interesting, and fun, to see how the mobile internet evolves.