Facebook Home on iPhone? Not a chance, say experts

Maybe 'Facebook Pup Tent,' jokes one, but Apple would never surrender its UI

There is no way, absolutely no way, that Apple will surrender its iPhone interface to Facebook Home, analysts said today.

"Apple will not do Facebook Home as implemented in the first version of Android. Absolutely not," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

"The chance of that happening is slim and none," chimed in Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.

The experts weighed in on a report Tuesday by Bloomberg, which quoted a Facebook executive saying that the Menlo Park, Calif. social networking giant is talking with both Apple and Microsoft about pushing Home onto iOS and Windows Phone 8.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Facebook Home on Android two weeks ago, and the app hit the Google Play e-market last Friday. Home, part interactive lock-screen, part app launcher, part user interface (UI) replacement, is the company's biggest-yet attempt to push into mobile. But reaction from both users and analysts has been mixed.

"We've shown them what we've built and we're just in an ongoing conversation," Adam Mosseri, Facebook director of product, told Bloomberg about discussions with Apple and Microsoft.

Earlier this month, Zuckerberg also talked about Apple, noting that the two companies have a "great relationship" and that Facebook is in "an active dialogue to do more with them."

Good luck with that, said analysts.

"Facebook may be dogging anyone who listens, but Home as it exists today will not be on iOS," said Gold.

"Never," replied Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner, when asked his take on the likelihood that Apple would give up its home screen, even its lock screen, to the interactive Facebook Home. "Why would Apple ever surrender the home screen? Apple believes that Facebook is important, they don't want to surrender anything to the Android platform, but they would never allow Home on the iPhone."

The experts cited one overpowering reason why Apple would reject any entreaty from Facebook: Apple's UI. The design of that distinctive interface, and its contribution to the success of the iPhone are the Cupertino, Calif. firm's "crown jewels." It's a big part of what makes an iPhone, well, an iPhone.

"There's absolutely no chance of this," said Moorhead. "The magic of [the iPhone] comes from the holistic experience Apple provides. With Home, they'd lose that holistic experience."

The UI is one of Apple's most-important strategic possessions, Moorhead added, and it jealously guards that UI -- including the iPhone's home screen -- from any interlopers.

In fact, Apple, more than any other mobile operating system developer or smartphone maker, is fanatical about keeping its customers close, and in not allowing even the thinnest wedge to come between it and those customers.

What the analysts did think likely: Facebook adding some features included in Home on Android to the Facebook apps already available for iOS or Windows Phone. Facebook did just that only yesterday, when it added "Chat Heads" to Facebook on iPhone.

"They could maybe do a subset of Home," said Gold of the product on iOS. "That would be 'Facebook Trailer,' or 'Facebook Tent.' Maybe 'Facebook Pup Tent.'"

Nor has Facebook Home on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 much chance, the analysts argued.

"I just don't see what Microsoft could gain outside of a small potential increase in sales if Home works out," said Moorhead.

Microsoft executives have hinted as much. Just after Facebook unveiled Home, Microsoft's head of communications, Frank Shaw, belittled it as little more than a copy of Windows Phone circa 2011.

Gold, who characterized Facebook Home as a "hostile takeover" of Android smartphones, said the openness of Google's OS, the fact that developers are not limited to Google Play to distribute their wares, makes Home possible on that platform. Not so for iOS and Windows Phone 8. Both Apple and Microsoft restrict app delivery to their own stores, and thus have veto power.

"Apple in particular keeps very tight control over what gets on the iPhone," Gold said. "I'd be shocked if Apple allowed Facebook Home. There have been others who have tried to do much less who have been bumped."

A rejection of Facebook Home by Apple -- if it's talking with Facebook about possibilities -- would not materially harm its relationship with Zuckerberg's company: Apple already integrates Facebook with iOS in ways that other developers only dream of.

In any case, Facebook Home may not, in the end, be worth Apple's or Microsoft's time.

"I think that the jury is still very much out whether [Facebook Home] will be successful," said Baker as he cited anecdotal evidence that even active Facebook users have told him the concept was, no pun intended, "Way too much in your face."

Gold agreed. "Facebook Home appeals to the really die-hard Facebook fans, but not to those who use it just three minutes a day," he said. "Most people won't like the idea of Facebook taking over their phones."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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