July 21st, 2015
Thursday marks Facebook‘s next big step to becoming a mobile company.
Forbes writers are currently on their way through the morning fog to an event at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to see the social network’s “new home on Android.”
This could mean the near-mythical “Facebook Phone,” or a forked version of Android a la Amazon’s Kindle, or a new kind of app that hooks more deeply into a phone’s operating system, like a home screen. We’ll know more in just a few hours, and check here for our live blog of the event.
- That Facebook is releasing an operating system or specialized app that acts as a “skin” on top of Android, whose first iteration as a pre-installed service will be shown on a mid-range HTC phone.
- That this app or operating system or even a forked version of Android, has permission to control key parts of the phone: from its WiFi connection to the lock screen, to its system settings.
- That Facebook’s new Graph Search will be the primary search interface over Google.
- That Facebook will also release the new interface on Google Play.
Mark Zuckerberg himself will probably make the announcement on stage, but a big question is who else will be there. As far as we know Google has never officially been part of a major product launch by Facebook, but given that this is an “Android event,” might someone from Mountain View join the Zuck on stage?
And what about a carrier partner? Facebook’s designs to become the primary conduit for communication on mobile devices probably scares the living daylights out of established telcos like AT&T and Verizon, who want to avoid being seen as dumb utilities offering little more than a data connection. So if Facebook wants to maintain diplomatic relations with the telco establishment, it might have a carrier representative or two on stage as well.
Then there’s Facebook Messenger. The real-time chat service is widely seen as an answer to the mobile messaging apps becoming wildly popular among young smartphone users. Youth, incidentally, are said to be leaving Facebook, perhaps because they see it as a place increasingly spammed by older people who have joined the network: eg. inspirational quotes superimposed on sunsets, stale memes, etc. Even Facebook said in its annual report in February 2013 that “younger users” were engaging in other products “as a substitute for Facebook.”
In the report it mentioned Instagram. But youth are really flocking toSnapchat, WhatsApp, GroupMe and Kik, real-time, messaging services that were born mobile, offer more privacy and are proactively partnering with telcos. Some are even selling games through their growing networks.
For Facebook to compete with that, it needs to show off a more appealing messaging service today. Perhaps it’ll be a revamped user interface to Facebook Messenger, or added functionality for sharing videos. Either way Facebook will want to bump up the 14% of smartphone users who use Facebook Messenger, according to researchers at Analysys Mason.
Facebook overall should show on Thursday that it is offering a more native mobile experience to help it engage further with its 1 billion+ global user base — and keep its investors happy. One of the big reasons why the company stumbled on its IPO were prevailing doubts about its mobile future. But mobile is crucial to Facebook’s ability to keep making money, and so far Facebook’s ad sales on mobile phones are looking promising. Research firm EMarketer said Wednesday that it expected Facebook to book $965 million in U.S. mobile ad revenue in 2013, more than double the $391 million it brought in the year before.
More people are now accessing Facebook on smartphones than they are on desktops. If Facebook can become the default communication platform for a smartphone, Analysys Mason says, it could increase its daily engagement with users six times over.
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Today's Facebook Phone Event: What To Expect,