Is Facebook's new Home app a winner?

Will the social network's mobile software, designed to attract more ads, live up to the billing, Alasdair Reid asks.

What a difference a year makes. In the run-up to Facebook’s IPO in May 2012, many analysts were pointing out that the company’s seeming reluctance to develop a mobile strategy was really rather unfortunate.

Facebook’s user metrics were already looking fragile, growth was slowing – and, with tablet and smartphone usage growing exponentially, the company’s numbers were hardly likely to improve if it failed to take a lead role in the mobile revolution. And, indeed, this was an important factor holding back the performance of Facebook stock in the weeks after its IPO.

It wasn’t long, though, before the company’s response came and it began to engage on this front. There was talk, for instance, that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg was planning a Steve Jobs-style coup and that he had a "Facebook phone" up his sleeve – a device that would stun the world by taking mobile technology to a whole new level.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, of course. In reality, his catch-up strategy is a little more modest – earlier this month, Zuckerberg launched Facebook Home, an app that sits on top of the Google Android mobile operating system and invites you to use Facebook as a gateway to your whole mobile experience.

The app becomes both lock screen and home screen – and even if you move beyond this layer to use other apps, Facebook functionality will still be prominent on-screen. It is also expected that the service will be structured to give advertisers more opportunities (for instance, on the home screen) and Facebook will be hoping to use tracking data to serve location-based ads.

In its first week, Facebook Home has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, despite only being available on four smartphones. However, early reviews have been mixed, with many users complaining that the app and its many permission requests drain the battery.

Zuckerberg certainly believes it’s a genuine game-changer, calling Home "the best version of Facebook there is", and expects it to alter, forever, our "relationship with technology".

Is he right?

 

YES Michael Agnew, senior account manager, Future Foundation

"There is a lot to be optimistic about as regards Facebook Home. It could provide opportunities for ads to be more relevant and appear more seamlessly. The concern, of course, is how much of our data Facebook will own."
 

YES Jordan Stone, strategy director, We Are Social

"Home brings the Facebook experience front and centre, so those who use it cannot fail to become more engaged with the platform. If it can realise the potential for real-time, targeted and hyper-local advertising, it could be lucrative."
 

MAYBE Nathalie Coulibeuf, social media director, PHD UK

"Home is very interesting for advertisers in terms of user data and targeting. Nevertheless, I wonder who is going to use it. The release is limited to some Android handsets and I fear that Home will be just a trendy but short-lived app."
 

MAYBE Stefan Bardega, managing partner, MediaCom

"Home gives Facebook control of the user experience and the data generated. This is exciting for advertisers. However, we don’t believe the current version represents enough of a benefit for significant numbers of people to download it."
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