Are you hopelessly addicted to Facebook? Well, good news for you: Facebook is expected to roll out its long-rumored entry in the mobile market today. Details have begun to emerge, painting a picture of a revamped Android user interface (or skin) accompanied by a new, HTC-designed smartphone.
The HTC First, as the phone is believed to called, is described as a "modest but capable performer." A Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5 megapixel rear camera and a 4.3-inch screen with 720p HD resolution give the First pretty average (read: boring) technical specs. As TechCrunch’s Darrel Etherington put it, "It’s so yawn-inducing that if Facebook spends more than two minutes on hardware and specs on Thursday, I might actually nod off."
Fortunately, the hardware isn’t the high point of the expected announcement. That spot belongs to Facebook Home — the Android interface redesigned to seamlessly integrate many Facebook functions. It’s expected that users will be able to update their status from the home screen and that photo uploads will be streamlined. Facebook’s standalone Messenger app will almost certainly be included, which combines the site’s messaging with standard SMS messages and free Voice Over IP calling. Of course, there are many questions to be answered, like how Facebook’s growing app store will interact with the established Android market.
In contrast to the hardware, however, initial reactions to Facebook Home have been mostly positive. From the images that have been obtained, the new UI takes a minimalist approach, with Facebook’s features readily available, but not obnoxiously so. And Gizmodo notes that Home continues the trend of large-scale photography evident in the newest iteration of Facebook’s newsfeed. The general consensus seems to be that Facebook has managed to provide a well-designed interface that allows increased access to the site’s functions while keeping the phones other features fully accessible.
That being said, a number of analysts have expressed their doubts as to whether Facebook home will find commercial success. One observer pointed out that the success of Facebook-oriented mobile devices will be tied to the website’s overall success, which has had no shortage of criticism as of late. After a period of astronomical growth, Facebook’s user base appeared unsteady last year, while ad revenue fell due to more users shifting to smartphones. It’s unknown if advertising will be a part of the new platform, or how it would be included.
Additional concerns have arisen over how wireless carriers will handle the new device. With HTC’s other devices having sold poorly, networks like Verizon and AT&T may be hesitant to push the new First. HTC’s Chacha model, with a button to post directly to Facebook, flopped back in 2011. And as tech giants like Google, Amazon, and now Facebook are now presenting themselves to consumers as content providers, wireless companies may not be particularly enthusiastic to lend their support.
All concerns aside, a dedicated integration with Android phones would certainly give Facebook a leg up against any current or future competition. One of the biggest questions yet to be answered is whether Facebook plans on limiting its new software to specific devices, or opening it to a broader Android audience, which might be the difference between commercial success and passing fad. Only time will tell if Facebook’s Home will offer consumers anything truly novel, but if the social media giant provides a user interface that offers more than the sum of its parts, it might just become a force to be reckoned with in the mobile market.