“What would it feel like if our phones were designed around people, not apps?” – Mark Zuckerburg on Facebook Home
You may have heard the news already, the “Facebook Home” is being released today.
Technically, Facebook Home isn’t really an OS. It’s also not a “fork” of Google’s Android software. It’s an App layer that puts your friends at the front of the Android user experience.
Even though there are no plans for the Home to be on iOS yet, what Facebook Home promises to do will be game changing to the world of mobile design. If it catches on, you’ll likely be rethinking the entire way you design your app’s interaction.
Facebook Home – Rethinking App Interaction Design
Why “Home” represents a paradigm shift in app design is simple – it puts your friends front and center of the mobile phone experience.
Instead of the app telling you what your friend did in it, you will be notified that your friend did something in an app.
In other words, Words With Friends won’t be telling you Jon took his turn, Jon will be telling you he took his turn as well as pinned an image, and shared a status.
It seems so simple, but what it’s really going to do is push designers to create more engaging app experiences that are made to include more than one person.
While this is “Android Problem” for designers now, in the not too distant future all mobile app’s primary way of advertising itself after being downloaded, will be all about who is interacting with the app and how frequently. Not necessarily on the branding power of the app itself.
Big marketing pushes won’t matter as much as designing apps people enjoy using together.
This also means that apps without some layer of social functionality could have a hard time retaining attention. This poses an interesting challenge for “nonsocial” apps, but more on that in a minute.
First, let’s talk about why Facebook’s new mobile strategy isn’t just an Android problem, and could force Apple’s hand into deeply integrating into iOS.
Facebook already has nearly 700 million active mobile users, and 160 million “mobile only” users, all who spend 23% of their phone time on Facebook (and a BILLION users to potentially migrate to mobile). Compare that to Apple who’s sold 318.6 million iPhones since their launch in 2007.
You will find more statistics at Statista
To put that in perspective, even if iOS never let Facebook on the iPhone from day 1, Facebook would still have 361.4 million unique mobile users, more than double all of iPhones purchases (which include multiple upgrades for some users).
Now consider that Facebook Home is coming pre-loaded on the HTC First. If even 1% of Facebook’s mobile user base made the switch, that would mean there would be 6.8 million units sold (vs. 1.12 million when iPhone was launched in 07). If unanswered, in the long run, the numbers indicate there is a real possibility Facebook could make a serious dent in Apple’s iPhone hardware business.
All because the Facebook Home software puts people first…
But let’s take this conversation back to design.
Does this mean certain doom for inherently insocial apps like finance monitor Mint, a popular bank management and budgeting app?
Absolutely not. What this means is that designers will have to start thinking creatively about “co-using” inherently non-social apps.
For example, Mint could allow your spouse to have a joint account, and would send notifications when they modify the budget. For a “to-do” app like Clear, you could tell it to remind you to drop off your dvd at Redbox because you set the reminder.
What Facebook is really doing with Home is positioning itself to become a cloud for your personal data. With that cloud being something that’s more accessible on mobile device, theoretically your apps could talk to each other and work together to make your mobile experience tailored to you.
Here’s a rough schematic of what that might look like.
Of course, Facebook has already made integrations like this easy by allowing mobile apps to connect with the Facebook Api, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we were to see more apps become integrated with the social network, simply to offer these kinds of experiences.
This feels very similar to how the “Like” button silently threatened, “integrate or become obscure” for desktop websites after it’s introduction in 2010. The result being that Facebook is now integrated with 49.3% the top 10,000 websites in the world.
If Facebook Home is successful, (and I believe it will be) the paradigm will shift from people using mobile devices to interact with apps first, to apps being able to talk to each other, and people using those apps to interacting with the people and businesses who provide the most meaning to their lives.
As an app designer, you’ll have to start thinking not just about how your app will work with one person, but how your app be a part of people’s relationships with each other and the businesses in their lives.
Chat Heads Will Change IM, SMS & In-App Communication
Perhaps the most compelling thing about Facebook Home is it’s “Chat Heads” feature which overlays IM & SMS over whatever else it is you’re doing.
The integration is brilliant because it means you won’t ever have to switch between apps (or ignore your messages) when someone sends you a text.
This feature alone is disruptful enough that Apple may find itself integrating something similar into it’s already delayed iOS 7 release.
ReadWrite Mobile and many other pundits are predicting that Chat Heads will be the SMS killer simply because you do not HAVE to switch between apps just because a text message comes in.
If for some reason though Apple does not integrate a similar “persistant texting” system (not like the pop-up in this video) it’s going to be up to the app developers, and it could be a huge opportunity for iOS app developers that hop on early.
The question you have to ask is, how could my user chat with someone else while they’re using my app?
Even with unsocial apps like Mint could incorporate the Facebook Chat api to allow users to send texts to their spouse about the budget without ever leaving the main application.
It sounds crazy, because technically the ability has been available all along, but sometimes all it takes is a major player, like Facebook, to introduce the concept before everyone else sees the problem that’s been there the entire time.
And technically speaking, building chat into an app isn’t that difficult.
Over To You
So these are just a few of my ideas on how Facebook Home will change the way we interact with mobile apps, but I’d love to get yours.
Will Facebook Home really make a difference, or will it just as likely to fall flat on it’s face?
Are you excited by it, and what kind of “social” integrations would you like to see from your apps (eventually) being able to talk with each other?
Leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s get the discussion going :-)
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