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Facebook tweaks Android phones to build new 'Home'

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 4, 2013 at 7:29 pm •  Published: April 4, 2013
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Zuckerberg, already a multibillionaire, didn't dwell on Home's moneymaking potential Thursday. Instead, he depicted the software as a noble attempt to put a higher priority on personal relationships than utilitarian apps.

"Why do we need to go into all the apps in the first place to see what is going on with the people we care about," he asked.

"We think this is the best version of Facebook there is," he said.

That statement implies that using Facebook on Apple's iPhone and other smartphones may become a less enriching experience. Apple Inc., which rigidly controls how apps work on the operating system built for the iPhone and iPad, has ingrained more Facebook features into the most recent versions of its mobile software

Apple had no immediate comment about Home.

Zuckerberg said users can have an experience on Android phones unavailable on other platforms because Google makes the software available on an open-source basis. That allows phone manufacturers and software developers to adapt it to their needs.

Recognizing that text messaging is one of the most important tasks on a mobile phone, Facebook programmed Home to include a feature called "chat heads." This lets users communicate with their friends directly from their home screens — without opening a separate app.

"What Facebook wants is to put itself at the front of the Android user experience for as many Facebook users as possible and make Facebook more elemental to their customers' experience," said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.

While the Home service probably makes sense for Facebook, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin thinks the company is overestimating "the extent to which this is something their users want."

"I'm sure there are people out there whose lives revolve around their social network and for them it makes sense to have it front and center," Golvin said. "But this doesn't describe the majority of consumers."

Google Inc. is among the companies hoping that Golvin is correct. The Internet search leader gives away its Android software for free, in the hope that it will steer phone users to ads sold by Google. With Home, Facebook will be muscling its way in between Android users and Google, creating an opportunity for Facebook to seize the advertising advantage.

This is not the first time a big Internet company has co-opted Android: Amazon.com's Kindle Fire tablets run a version of Android that strips out all Google services, replacing them with Amazon's equivalents. Google responded by releasing its own tablet to compete against the Kindle Fire last year.

The mobile advertising market is growing quickly, thanks in large part to Facebook and Twitter, which also entered the space in 2012. EMarketer expects U.S. mobile ad spending to grow 77 percent this year to $7.29 billion, from $4.11 billion last year.

Facebook, meanwhile, is expected to reel in $1.53 billion in worldwide mobile ad revenue this year according to eMarketer, up from $470.7 million last year.

Facebook's stock rose 82 cents, or 3.1 percent, to close Thursday at $27.07. That's 29 percent below its initial public offering price of $38. Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's 500 index has surged by 20 percent since Facebook's rocky debut.

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Barbara Ortutay reported from New York. AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed to this story from New York.