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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Not quite at Home?

As companies try to control and compete for users' attention, value diminishes.

A couple of days ago, David Pogue reviewed Facebook's latest offering: Facebook home for android. An app that comes pre-installed on HTC First and is downloadable for certain other android phones.
He raised a very important and pertinent question:

 What exactly is the point ?

Mobile devices are experiencing a meteoric rise in their usage. PC sales have dropped 14% this quarter.
How do you compete when the screen is just 5 inches or even 10 inches?
Google figured this out very nicely. It open-sourced the Android OS so that hardware manufacturers used it to make smartphones. These smartphones would all come pre-loaded with Google's apps. Its search engine, voice search, Streetview and tons of other apps. Google then created an eco-system similar to Apple's. The genius lies in the fact that 1) The ecosystem is so pervasive now that most people (nearly all) look at what apps are available for a phone before they buy it. 2) Google made this happen out of thin air: without the hassles of making their own handsets and without the cost and associated risks of entering the hardware market (Motorola acquisition is relatively recent). But others were not so fortunate and fell behind. (Yahoo! comes to mind.)

Google gained the users' attention through a process that can only be described as 'passive Hypnosis'.
This does not mean that Google is bad. I am merely appreciating the genius and the nonchalance with which it was able to place itself in the center of the smartphone market. Other companies have been slow to react.(Yahoo! comes to mind). Facebook paid Instagram a billion dollars for a reason. Yahoo! acquired Summly for the same reason.

Yet, for all the hype created by the companies that ask you to download their app, the value provided to the user is actually diminishing. Websites were neat and pretty once. Now every webpage is a mammoth that hogs network and carries a lot of surplus- stuff you don't actually want to look at. Same with smartphone apps: Google removed the ad-block which was one of the most popular apps so ads could be displayed on the apps that you used. And every time I access Facebook through my mobile web browser, there is an ad (thinly disguised as a "suggested post") right in the middle of my news-feed  .Facebook's new "Home for Android" is its latest attempt to imitate Google- to become what Google has become on smartphones - The very core.

The early reviews suggest that users are not very happy with this new offering. As Pogue writes,"The ads are coming soon." That means whenever you wake your phone, there may be an ad waiting. Suppose I use my phone to find out what time it is, and instead of just showing the clock widget on the home-screen, I am (probably going to be) greeted with a nice offer to buy jewelry or movie tickets. Nobody would ever want to own such a phone. In fact,  and I am really sticking my neck out here: It may increase the popularity of G+.

Users were once controlling technology. You chose to call someone. You decided to text your friends.
You decided which website was your homepage. That isn't the case anymore. All the stuff that's out there is thrown at you whether you like it or not. And you have to mine all that stuff to find what you are really looking for.

We should control technology. The user must be free to choose what sites he/she wants to visit. What their wallpaper looks like, what their default search engine should be. When and where they want to connect with their friends and most importantly: the user should decide to log in to your website rather than you trying to log in to his/her life.