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Facebook takes over Android home screen, has plans for new ad opportunities

Facebook introduced a new way for Android users to interact more directly with friends from the home screen and lock screen of their device.

With Facebook Home, connections will be more easily accessible by making notifications more visible and without the need to go into the Facebook app. While there are no ads at first, executives said they will be there eventually.

?It appears that the first version of Home will not include advertising messages,? said Todd Herrold, senior director of product marketing for Kenshoo Social, San Francisco.?This is consistent with Facebook's general approach to put user-focused experiences into the market, optimize those experiences to become seamless and sticky, and then begin seeding the experience with advertising.

?We can expect that over time, advertising to the Home screen feed will become available and will provide very powerful opportunity for marketers,? he said.

Chat Heads
Facebook Home features a Coverfeed that shows updates from friends whenever a phone is unlocked.

A new "Chat Heads" feature brings up notifications. Users can tap on these to open a chat window and reply. The messages appear along with the name and face of the sender.

Facebook has seen a significant portion of its use migrate to smartphones in the past couple of years. The mobile user experience was not great at first but has steadily improved.

While a Facebook smartphone had been anticipated by some, Home still has the potential to provide a more integrated, seamless experience for users.

Putting people first
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during yesterday?s presentation that the social network is looking to put people ? not apps ? first in the user experience. This is a small but very meaningful change, he said.

The deeper engagement with mobile phone users promised by Facebook Home could potentially mean more mobile advertising dollars for Facebook, which is expected to earn $1.53 billion in mobile advertising revenue worldwide this year and $2.7 billion next year, according to eMarketer.

Facebook?s mobile revenues are growing quickly ? up from just $470.7 million last year ? but the company is still under a lot of pressure to monetize its ballooning mobile user base.

?With mobile use continuously on the rise and 20 percent of our mobile time currently spent on Facebook, the announcement of Facebook Home is a significant step in the execution of Facebook's mobile strategy,? Kenshoo Social?s Mr. Herrold said. ?As the Home name suggests, Facebook will effectively become the home screen for mobile users who install the application or purchase a pre-configured Facebook Home phone from cell carriers, such as the HTC First on AT&T.

?Facebook Home makes the mobile experience more engaging and personally relevant from the moment the user turns on the phone,? he said. ?This is something Facebook has the unique capability to provide given its massive scale and the volume of status updates from users.?

Android fragmentation
Facebook said it will update Home once a month and did not rule out the possibility of integrating Pinterest or Instagram feeds at some point. The social network also did not rule out the possibility of bringing Facebook Home to iOS.

While Facebook Home may offer a new way for the social network to advertise to its audience, it could also lead to further fragmentation of the Android user experience.

?This is a good move for Facebook because they can better target and advertise to their audiences,? said John Haro, chief technology officer of Vibes, Chicago.

?However, this raises the problem of further fragmentation of the Android operating system, which can create different user experiences for consumers ? depending on the phones and carriers they have,? he said.

?As a result, consumers may not get all their apps on their phones ? and they may not even work on all phones ? which can ultimately lead to a bad experience.?

Hyper-local targeting
Facebook Home will be available on April 12 only in the United States initially. It will also only be on phones at first, not tablets.

The phones that will feature Facebook Home are HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 as well as the Samsung Note 2. Users will need to have the Facebook and Messenger apps already installed.

The new HTC First phone was also announced during the event, which will have Facebook Home already set up. It will be available exclusively from AT&T starting April 12 for $99.99 and comes in four colors: red, baby blue, white and black.

Facebook Home is just one of the ways that the social network is looking to improve the mobile experience, and ultimately drive monetization opportunities on mobile.

?Facebook has made a lot of progress creating and improving advertising opportunities via mobile, but there is a lot more to be done,? Kenshoo Social?s Mr. Herrold said.

?Mobile advertising needs to become more engaging, interactive and relevant to the user,? he said. ?It needs to become more social and local as well.

?The promise of mobile advertising to enable hyper-local and individualized targeting ? for example receiving an ad for a retailer I like as I walk by the store has been largely unrealized. One can easily imagine that advertising to the user's Facebook Home screen can begin to achieve this given that Home will always be on and front and center on the user's mobile device.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York