Facebook Home needs an extreme makeover

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Jason

Consumers aren't exactly putting out the welcome mat for Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Home: Roughly a month after the social networking giant rolled out the alternative Android homescreen, there's mounting evidence to suggest the concept is a dud. For starters, Facebook Home's user reviews are horrible--among the close to 16,000 Android device owners who've left feedback on the app's Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play page, more than half have awarded it just one star, the digital storefront's lowest rating. Download activity has also ground to a screeching halt, with Google Play indicating that only 500,000 to 1 million Android users have installed the Home app, essentially unchanged from first-week totals.

To be fair, Facebook Home is currently limited to a handful of devices including the Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy Note II, HTC One X and HTC One X+, so it's possible there are millions of Android owners champing at the bit to download the app but saddled with incompatible phones. Of course, anyone desperate to sample Facebook Home could purchase AT&T Mobility's new (NYSE:T) HTC First, which preloads the app. There's no time like the present: AT&T is already offering the First for the clearance price of 99 cents, along with a two-year contract. An AT&T spokesperson told CNet the company runs handset promotions like this one all the time, but the First is just a few weeks old, and its fire-sale price tag simply bolsters a recent note from Wall Street firm Sterne Agee stating "A local AT&T store we checked with told us it had not sold a single HTC First phone."

Is Facebook losing its mobile mojo? Not necessarily. Its mobile monthly active users grew from 488 million to 751 million in the first quarter of 2013, a year-over-year increase of 54 percent, and mobile-only MAUs surged to 189 million from 157 million a quarter ago. But Facebook Home seems like too much of a good thing. It effectively commandeers the Android UI, vaulting Facebook apps and services to the homescreen and pushing other apps to the periphery. When Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Home last month, he said the company set out to flip the script on the traditional mobile user experience paradigm, designing around people first and then focusing on app-enabled interactions, instead of vice versa.

But Zuckerberg failed to account for one thing: Consumers like apps, they like arranging them on their phones and they want everything in its proper place. Read Facebook Home's Google Play reviews and it becomes clear that the app is simply too radical and too alienating for most users. "It just was too much. I would like it better if it was just the lock screen, but it gets annoying. Plus, it hid most of my other apps," reads one review, with another stating "Just takes a nice phone and ruins the interface. Waste of time." But the reviews also indicate that consumers recognize Facebook Home is a first attempt--that it could still evolve and improve, perhaps even taking into account their objections and recommendations. Android owners don't want this particular Facebook Home, but they may welcome an overhauled, far less intrusive version. Facebook still has time to make those changes before consumers forget the app even exists. Whether the social network wants to support a version of Home that doesn't further its dreams of total Android domination is another story.--Jason

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