Facebook’s new Home screen for Android phones is a potentially transformative moment in the struggle for dominance between Android and iOS in the hearts and minds of users. Android has always been the “open” platform for mobile computing, and the conventional wisdom is that open platforms win. As a result, people have been excited about the platform’s openness, but a lot of the real user value was theoretical, or even dubious. Openness meant that spammy apps could drop malware or spyware on your phone, requiring anti-virus tools like Lookout to come prepacked. Openness meant that OEMs and vendors could add bundled apps to your home screen that couldn’t be deleted . The user benefit seemed to be limited to the ability to use different keyboards by default (which is cool, but not interesting for the mainstream user).
Facebook’s new home screen is the first major launch of a feature that really takes advantage of Android’s platform openness in a substantive way. Android was always unique in its ability to be customized and extended in potentially extreme ways. Amazon took the drastic approach of forking the OS entirely . However, Facebook has cleverly leveraged every hook that Android has provided. Facebook’s Home screen is a compelling user experience on top of the Android platform in a way that we haven’t seen before – and it won’t be possible to deliver on iOS. The latter platform simply won’t allow it.
As the iPhone struggles to continue to differentiate itself, Apple has also made some moves that underscore the limitations of their closed platform approach . The default app that opens when you click an address in your iPhone’s calendar app is the Apple Maps experience – not what most users want. Now users are forced to copy and paste into Google Maps. This is in a large part driving the migration of early adopters from their iPhones into Nexus 4’s and Galaxy S3 devices.
I expect that we will look back on the Facebook announcement today as an important milestone in the overall trend towards more end user adoption of Android in the coming years and its eventual triumph in the marketplace. I am looking forward to seeing how Facebook drives its evolution over the coming months.