/// Facebook Home Will Be ‘a Huge Flop’ Until It’s Not
The big shift in the software world toward delivering software via apps is spoiling users.
Apps are great; with the click of a mouse and a wait of just a few seconds, and at a price of zero to several dollars, you get software that runs fast on a tiny mobile device and can make multi-layer drawings, generate music, simulate flight, or turn your entire phone into an overachieving photo album.
On the other hand, the speed, power and ease of apps has also made users more demanding. In the personal computer era, a software company like Microsoft could release an operating system like Windows or a browser like Internet Explorer and then take several years and iterations to improve the product to the point where an average person would be willing to use it, typically by version 3. Software makers found they could drag out development during the web age, too. Google’s email reader Gmail, for example, enduredtwo and a half yearsof tinkering within the company before it was released, then was in beta mode for five more years.
The app economy, in contrast, is all about “now, now, now.” Facebook, with its roots in web software, is still learning this lesson. The company released Facebook Home, an innovative shell for the Android mobile operating system, barely one month ago. The app puts a stream of Facebook photos and status updates on your home and lock screen, pushing aside the traditional grid of app icons, and it makes it easier to chat with buddies. Initially, it only worked on four devices. Facebook reasoned, in the words of VP Cory Ondrejka, that by “doing a relatively slow rollout intentionally…. [we’ll] be able to get good feedback and tell how people are actually using Home” and thus improve it.
“Every month,” Ondrejka said at the Facebook Home launch, “Home will come out and is going to have more features, is going to work on more devices, and it’s going to be better.”
But critics did not give Facebook Home months; they hardly gave it even one. Salon opined on “the Facebook Home disaster” 35 days after launch. “Facebook’s New Mobile Product Is a Huge Flop,” wrote Business Insider 39 days in. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s headline at day 38 read simply, “Facebook’s Home app not liked.”
Facebook Home does face problems. Its average rating in the main Android app store is 2.2 out of 5, with nearly 9,000 1-star reviews outweighing the 3,000 5-star reviews. The phone on which Home comes pre-installed, the HTC First, has seen its price drop to 99 cents from $99 and is rumored to be on the verge of cancellation.
But it’s exceedingly common to see version 1 of any software product struggle. And with its aggressive makeover of Android, Facebook Home was bound to draw more than its share of jeers, particularly from the hard-core Android users who own the high-end phones on which the app runs and who rushed to download and review Facebook Home within the first month of its release. In their 1-star reviews, many of these users complained that Home shoves Android’s app grid and dock into the background. As it happens, that’s exactly what the app was designed to do.
In the end, Facebook Home will rise or fall on how well it appeals to its target audience: the exceedingly average billion people who use Facebook and are quite possibly more interested in seeing pictures and messages from their loved ones when they turn on their phones than in seeing the geeky navigational craft of a smartphone operating system. Facebook Home doesn’t yet provide that sort of experience perfectly, but then it’s been out for less than two months. Given some time, this “huge flop” of a software product might just find a devoted audience. It would hardly be the first program to pull off such a turnaround.
Wired – Ryan Tate, Senior Writer