This morning (4am Sydney time) Facebook held a bit of a press event. During this press event they announced that they would be bringing an entirely new home screen replacement for the Android mobile operating system. What this essentially means is that there are almost half a billion devices out there that could be running a Facebook OS. This is a huge step forward for Facebook.
But why is this a big step forward for Facebook? After all they have a presence on both iOS and Android with their Facebook app and it’s so easy to click ‘share’ to send your photos and status updates to all your friends. How will having a new launcher change the equation at all? Well it’s not so much what will be front and centre but what WON’T be front and centre….and that’s Google+.
Now I’m not saying that Google+ will vanish from the new Facebook Home OS (whilst it is simply an Android launcher with the Android/Google architecture underneath, the fact that Facebook will be so ‘in your face’ leads me to call it an OS) because we saw during the presentation that Google+ was still on there. In fact they made a point of flicking over the applications to show that both Twitter and Google+ were in the Facebook OS.
So we now know that Google+ won’t vanish from Facebook OS . That’s great, right? Everything is just hunky-dory.
Not so much.
See Google+ has had a few problems in catching up to Facebook in terms of raw numbers and active users. Whilst anyone with a Google account (which is pretty much everyone these days) automatically gets a Google+ account that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be utilised. Google+ can easily boast that they have half a billion users however less than half of those are considered ‘active monthly users’ and even less (around 140 million) are active in just the homepage of Google+. This is substantially less than Facebook’s 1 billion (with a B) active monthly users.
So Facebook already has a significant leg-up over Google+. Why would the introduction of a Facebook OS change all that? After all Google still makes the Android OS and you’ll still have the Google Play store to buy and download all of your apps. Well, yes they do. However having the Facebook Home OS installed on your Android device means that it will be oh so easy to easily share everything with your Facebook friends. After all when Mark Zuckerberg got up on stage to announce Facebook Home he said two notable sentences:
We’re going to talk (today) about how to make your phone a great social service
What would happen if our phones were designed around people, not apps? Today our phones are designed around apps, not people. We’re going to flip that around.
These are two very, very important things as they indicate exactly where Facebook see the Facebook OS going and why Google should be afraid.
Firstly he stated where he sees the future of Facebook: your phone. Currently Facebook sees more than 600 million active monthly users logging on using a mobile OS (be it an iPhone, iPad, Android Phone or Android Tablet) and so they know that whatever happens they have got to be in the mobile space. This is Facebook’s push to get more than half a billion potential Facebook OS users.
But the second quote is probably more important than anything else. What if our phones were designed around people, not apps? This is where Google+ should be nervous. Why would you go all the way into the app launcher, scroll around, find Google+, click on it and then compose a status update, photo post or link just to send out to all your Google+ friends….many of whom are on Facebook already. It just won’t make any sense to people. Eventually they could just stop using Google+ altogether.
Now, I could be wrong with all of this. Facebook OS could not take off and it will only be used by a tiny fraction of Android users. Google could invest more heavily into Google+’s marketing in order to woo Facebook users who are worried about privacy and slowly their user base will grow larger and larger. But, for now, whilst everything remains a theory…I think that Google+ should be looking warily at Facebook’s entry into the mobile market.
NB: Whilst Twitter has also been relegated to simply being ‘another app’ in the Facebook OS directory it is a completely separate social network. Facebook and Google+ are similar enough to be almost direct competitors. Twitter’s only real competition (other than from Facebook status updates) is from App.net.