The closest thing to a “Facebook phone” has been delayed indefinitely in Europe. Officially it’s to allow time to tweak some of the software, but it follows a poor initial response in the United States.
Facebook has always insisted it won’t make a handset itself, reasoning that there’s no point putting its efforts into something that is always going to be a small player in the big picture of the smartphone industry.
Instead it recently launched Facebook Home, which is effectively a customized version of the Android operating system. It goes a step beyond a simple Facebook app and instead takes over the home screen and lock screens with a barrage of images and updates from the owner’s Facebook account.
The system is available for download on several leading Android handsets. It was also included out-of-the-box on a new HTC handset, simply called First. The phone’s specs were relatively run of the mill, so it was clear it would be the Facebook connection that would decide if people would buy it.
The First launched at $99.99, but appears not to have made a big splash. A matter of weeks later it was cut to 99 cents, still with a mandatory two-year contract.
Meanwhile at least one million people have downloaded and tried out Facebook Home for their own handset, but reviews have been mediocre at best. At the time of writing it had received an average rating of 2.3 stars out of five. The negative reviews are from a mix of people who were skeptical about the concept and found it lived down to their expectations, and people who found they lost too much convenience in accessing non-Facebook features.
There are also a lot of complaints about the effect on battery life, though it’s hard to tell if this is indeed a widespread issue that’s a direct result of Facebook Home.
Following the criticism, Facebook says it is “focusing the next few months on adding customization features that address the feedback we received. While we focus on making Home better, we are going to limit supporting new devices.”
It has “recommended” that Everything Everywhere and Orange, who planned to launch the HTC First in the United Kingdom and France respectively, hold off for the moment. Whether that was simply a helpful suggestion or a flat-out order, the two carriers say they’ll follow the recommendation.