The smartphone business is becoming more like Nascar every day with multiple companies vying to get their brands more prominently promoted on the screens and cases of mobile devices. It's an intensely competitive market in which telecommunications carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, and HTC are getting top billing. Of course, Apple with iOS controls the entire smartphone user experience, and Google with the more open Android holds sway with its broad suite of apps and its own branded mobile devices.
Enter Facebook Home, a family of apps that CEO Mark Zuckerberg today said is designed to help "you see your world through people, not apps." It's also a way to colonize the Android platform, increasing Facebook's share of screen real estate and its accessibility on mobile devices.
Facebook's new Home on Android addresses a large audience. The social network has more than a billion active users monthly, and accounts for 18 percent of the total time U.S. consumers spend on smart mobile devices, according to Flurry, which measures application usage across more than 1 billion smart devices. Some percentage of the social network's billion users -- those who live most fully in the Facebook bubble -- will gladly take the Facebook Home plunge.
Zuckerberg and company would also like to colonize Apple's iOS, but it is uncertain whether Apple would be willing to let Facebook take over the home screen and app launcher. Facebook's CEO was asked by reporters in a Q&A session after the new product unveiling whether Home would be coming to iOS. "We have a great relationship with Apple," Zuckerberg said, offering up a read-between-the-lines response. "Anything that happens with Apple is going to happen with partnership. Google's Android is open so we don't have to work with them."
Zuckerberg is thinking big and racing to colonize the rest of the world with the Facebook platform. In his remarks at the Home launch, he talked about addressing the largely untapped global market for smart mobile devices.
"The modern computing device has a very different place in our lives. It's not just for productivity and business. It's also for making us more connected, social, and aware. Home, by putting people first and then apps, by just flipping the order, is one of many small but meaningful changes in our relationship with technology over time," Zuckerberg said.
Looking into the future, he added, "If you look out five or ten years when all 5 billion or so people who have feature phones are going to have smartphones, we'll soon be living in a world where the majority of people who have a smartphone -- a modern computing device -- will have never seen in their lives what you and I call a computer. The very definition of what a computer is and what our relationship should be hasn't been set for the majority of the world...When it is, I think a lot of that definition will be around people first."
He also expects Facebook to play a big part in defining the future. "This is the kind of work that Facebook, and our culture and community, are uniquely built to do," he concluded.
Empires and companies come and go. For now, Facebook is ascendant, and hitching its wagon to an ascendant Android can only expand its domain.