Facebook Blesses Android, Damns Apple

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In the end, Facebook's "phone" announcement has little impact on Facebook itself. The key takeaway is that Facebook just made the greatest endorsement of Android imaginable, while basically relegating Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry to second-class citizens.

Facebook's huge endorsement of Android is a symptom of a larger industry trend, with Android's relative openness winning over Apple's more restrictive iOS. This is the kind of trend that is not swiftly or easily reversible.

Let's go through the impact of Facebook's announcement, company by company:

Google: The Facebook announcement was nothing short of a big Android advertisement. HTC is launching a dedicated Android phone that is optimized for Facebook, and a "lighter" version of this Facebook software implementation will be available for a couple of other Samsung and HTC Android phones as well.


The Facebook software does not subtract much -- if anything -- from Google's value on the Android platform, while diverting users from Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry. What more could Google have asked for? Essentially nothing. One almost thinks Google has incriminating pictures of Mark Zuckerberg, given how he buttered up to his corporate neighbors located a few short miles down the street.

Apple: Apple usually hosts an event mid-late March quarter to announce a new iPad, or at least a preview of a new software version for the iPhone. Well, not this year. Something has gone astray in Cupertino. iOS 7 is running late. This is in turn delaying what will surely eventually be new iPads and iPhones launching later in the year.

The problem for Apple is that they needed the new products in March -- and in June -- not in September or October. There is some fear that Apple's March sales could be weak, given the lack of new product, and even worse in June. Perhaps September may even be in doubt, if iOS 7 and associated devices are running late and things are not on store shelves until October. Pain!


Poor Apple.

And here comes Mark Zuckerberg, pouring salt into Apple's open wound. He all but peed on Apple. Basically, reading between the lines, Zuckerberg said that Apple's platform in its current state is simply not as friendly to Facebook -- and by extension to every other third-party app provider either.

Zuckerberg's message to the app development community: Work more on Android, less on Apple.

Can Apple cure this situation? Of course it can. However, it will likely take a lot of time -- not a month or two, but more like a year or two. It is not easy, even though more of the difficulty resides in Apple's political/philosophical domain, rather than in its technical. Apple believes in its "total control" of the experience, and to convert to Android's far more open philosophy will require swallowing a lot of pride and memories of Steve Jobs' old principles.


Facebook: Forty years ago, in the movie Magnum Force, Inspector "Dirty Harry" Callahan, played by Clint Eastwood, said "A man's got to know his limitations." Facebook does not seem to agree. It thinks it is the center of the human universe, the source of all knowledge and good.

Facebook seems to believe that people want more Facebook, total immersion. Facebook seems to believe that people actually want to spend more time on Facebook than they already do. For this reason, they have created this new way -- on Android only -- to get even more immersed into the world of Facebook.

I think most people think exactly the opposite. I think most people are trying to spend less time on Facebook. Most people view Facebook as an addiction. They may not want to reduce their presence on Facebook to 0%, but they want to reduce it nevertheless. Perhaps cut the time they spend on Facebook by 30% or 50%. Basically, go on a Facebook diet. Not to starve themselves, but to become healthy again.

Today, whether you're on iOS, Android or Windows Phone, Facebook is one app among others. It's one of many buttons on one of the home screens. I think most people feel that's an appropriate place. It's easy to go there, but it doesn't take precedence over everything else you do on the phone.

Clearly, people are different. Some people want to binge on Facebook. They are addicted and they want even more of it. Greasy burgers and Las Vegas casinos do sell. People are addicted to all sorts of things. This new Facebook home on Android gives these people a place to binge.

Good for them. I'll most likely pass, thank you.

Bottom line on Facebook: By putting its fate into Google's hands, they will be able to target Facebook addicts better. That's an incremental positive for Facebook, perhaps. The question is how much? How many addicts are clamoring for this?

I suspect that this will be a slight positive for Facebook, but not something that changes the smartphone landscape or ecosystem materially in its favor. The big favor that was done with Facebook's announcement was that it just told every app developer in the world that Android is the place to be, and Apple is a place you should relegate to second-citizen status.

Google's shareholders just sent Mark Zuckerberg the biggest gift basket they could afford. Apple went back to the bedroom, locked the door, threw itself onto the bed, and started sobbing.

Google - Apple: 1-0.

At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG, AAPL and FB, and short MSFT.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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