what we've been hearing and seeing for the last day or so, it seems that it will be an Android-based phone on which Facebook is the star. What will it take for Facebook to make users switch? A lot.
We're hearing that the Facebook-focused version of Android will be demonstrated on an HTC device on Thursday at Facebook HQ. But I wonder if now is the right time for Facebook to be making this particular mobile move. While the company has taken some steps in the right mobile direction, too many of its features are not yet ready for mobile prime time (or ready for mobile at all, with Facebook Graph Search being a case in point). And Facebook is still flailing away with the user interface of the social network in general as it tries to develop ways to commercialize its service without ticking off users (at least, not too badly).
Here are five things I think Facebook has to do to earn the coveted space on users' smartphone home screens. (Warning: The last is a modest proposal of sorts.)
[ Would an HTC Facebook phone be fixable? See HTC One 'Impossible To Repair' Says iFixit. ]
1. Improve Its Messaging Service
When I think about my iPhone, and the functions I access most from the home screen, email is by far No. 1. Maybe Facebook will provide some kind of conduit for third-party email systems, and, being based on Android, it doesn't seem crazy to believe that Gmail could be integrated somehow. But I'm guessing that Facebook will want to push users to its own messaging system. The thing is, that system is OK for sending a private message here and there, but it's not easy to find messages once you have sent them, or to associate messages other than by individual user. I realize that a social network is intended in many ways to replace the old email paradigm -- and I just saw a report from the Boston Globe looking at how email volume is declining with the increasing use of social networks, text messaging and the like -- but the fact remains that email still has its place.
2. Provide Calendar Integration
After email, the function I access most on my smartphone is the calendar. And that calendar is useful to me because it pulls from all of the various calendars I use. If Facebook wants to be the first thing I see when I unlock my device, it had better not make me miss that conference call -- or dentist appointment -- because I can't see all of my calendars in one place. And, right now, Facebook's calendaring options just don't cut it on their own.
3. Stop Deciding What Users Want To See
I recently had a conversation with a person who couldn't figure out why she wasn't seeing Facebook posts from all of the people she had friended on Facebook. Of course, EdgeRank, Facebook's mysterious algorithm for determining who sees what, is at work here. There are ways to set up your account to see more rather than less, but Facebook is still doing much of the deciding (including, infuriatingly, whether I see Most Recent posts or Top Stories, no matter how many times I switch back). I get that Facebook is setting itself up more and more to provide a platform on which businesses can meaningfully market and sell -- which requires that they know who they are marketing and selling to so that they can focus that activity -- but doing so at the cost of user productivity and satisfaction is short-sighted.
4. Enough With The Promoted Posts
Again, I know Facebook has to figure out ways to make money. But the promoted posts are starting to get ridiculous. Not so long ago, promoted posts appeared infrequently enough in my Newsfeed that I would stop and think, "Did I like that page?" Now it seems like every other post is a promoted post. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's getting less and less valuable -- or even enjoyable -- to check Facebook. There are too many other places where users can get what they get from Facebook. (And, if my two teenage daughters and their friends can be considered a focus group for their generation, Facebook is totally lame because it has gotten so commercialized.) On mobile, especially, too many promoted posts get in the way of a meaningful experience.
5. Crush. Kill. Destroy.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that Facebook would have to design some kind of malware that would render iPhones, BlackBerrys and other Android devices useless before the company could pry users' beloved devices/OSes from their hands. Or, Facebook could give the phones away for free, which might accomplish the same thing in the end. I think Facebook would have to go that far for a "Facebook phone" to make a big dent in today's well-entrenched mobile device market.
Does a Facebook-focused mobile device sound enticing to you at all? What would such a phone have to do to get you to switch from what you are already using? Please let us know in the comments section below.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
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