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Thoughts on Facebook home and the growing divide between iOS and Android

Mobile phones used to be all about connecting with people. The address book was at the very heart of the devices, and phones were mainly used for calling and texting. Then Apple ushered in the App economy, merging the internet with mobile in a powerful way. It led to apps residing on the top level of smartphones, and that’s been the standard for the last five years. Now Facebook are introducing Home, which feels like deja vu, simply because it’s not a new paradigm – it’s the time-tested paradigm that was there until Apple changed the game.

By transforming the standard Android homescreen with an immersive Facebook experience, Facebook is cleverly putting itself in one of the most social parts of our lives. For those that install it, Facebook Home will significantly change the smartphone and ramp up social activity on an unprecedented scale. This brings learnings but also invites concern.

Technically speaking, there’s a lot we can learn. For example, the launch of Facebook Home shows us how an operating system can be manipulated. In doing so, Facebook Home has introduced us to the idea that, on Android at least, it’s possible to massively disrupt the native presentation of the OS.  It is almost impossible to imagine a similar manoeuvre on iOS, which could easily mean that from 12th April (the point of launch of Facebook Home), the divergence between the two systems could accelerate. Provided users buy in to it, of course.

It also marks yet another step change in the complexity debate. Assuming Facebook Home is successful, any Android developer will have to contend with significant forking of the Android OS with different apps for deep integration of Facebook Home and one for non-Facebook services.

Yet there is a much darker side to the story. Skeptics have raised alarm bells around privacy concerns related around two clear points:

1. Facebook is notoriously disrespectful of privacy and data matters

2. Android is notoriously open and vulnerable to attack

This combination could be very worrying indeed and as Om Malik writes in GigaOm, if users install it, “it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action”. Since Android allows Facebook to do whatever it wants on the platform, it could see Facebook get data on where you live, where you shop and who your closest relationships are with.

While Facebook’s simplification of the homescreen is all well and good, the real test will be how the users respond and what Facebook does to protect users’ rights to privacy.  Both are responses we await with baited breath.

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