Elsewhere

For most people, the entire purpose of a Home screen is displaying app icons. But there are no icons on Facebook’s Home screens; Facebook thinks you’d rather use that space for reading Facebook updates.

The only icon that appears is your own profile photo. You can drag it to the left to open the Facebook Messaging app, to the right to open the last open app — or upward to open a grid of app icons on a gray background. Ah, here are the apps. But it’s awfully sparse; where are the rest?

They’re on a screen off to the left. Swipe your finger to see, on a black background, the usual Android “all apps” screen. From here, you can hold your finger down on a particular app’s icon to install it onto the gray-background launcher screen, which can have multiple pages.

If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. In removing the app-launching function from the Home screen, Facebook has wound up having to reinvent the way you open programs on your phone, and the result feels like a hack.

David Pogue, Facebook’s Grab for Your Phone. What Gives?

What happens when Facebook tries to hack the way the mobile Home screen works? It screws up the whole smartphone paradigm of apps first and foremost.

The real problem is that Facebook Home is trying to hack our brains: Fail.

Two Voices, One Idea: Disconnecting To Focus

I kind of hate phones. They have the brief to ring whenever they want. They haven’t gotten significantly better at being phones by getting smarter. Oh yes, I love Google Maps (and can’t wait to get it back), and I take a lot of photos. But as a comm device, phones are still fairly dumb.

But I (thankfully) live in a world of my own creation, so I don’t have many people trying to call me by phone. So, I am relatively disconnected, toiling in my home office, and communicating with people asynchronously mostly, and otherwise in scheduled calls. Others are not so lucky.

Two pieces caught my eye today. Daniele Fiandaca and Brad Feld both wonder is we’re not better off disconnecting more:

Daniele Fiandaca: Why We Need To Disconnect In The Workplace

This issue of constant connectivity is turning into a malaise of digital dependency. Addressing this malaise in the workplace is something I’ve been pondering on for a while. Is technology now making us inefficient? Is being permanently connected, and in an ongoing state of continuous partial attention, making us less effective in our work?

Fiandaca and colleagues at Cheil UK experimented with Samsun Tectiles, a pad to lay phones on that control their settings:

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This allows the user to place the phone on the “red for off” side of the tectile, and disconnect, to get things done.

Feld is going through a sort of rethinking of everything after way too much work and the gall bladder surgery: 

Brad Feld, My Smart Phone Is No Longer Working For Me

There’s some magic peace that comes over me when I’m not constantly looking at my iPhone. I really noticed it after two weeks of not doing it. After a few days of withdrawal, the calm appears. My brain is no longer jangly, the dopamine effect of “hey – another email, another tweet” goes away, and I actually am much faster at processing whatever I’ve got on a 27″ screen than on a little tiny thing that my v47 eyes are struggling to read.

Now, I’d love for there to be a way for me to know about high priority interrupts – things that actually are urgent. But my iPhone doesn’t do this at all in any discernable way. There are too many different channels to reach me and they aren’t effectively conditioned – I either have to open them up to everyone (e.g. txtmsg via my phone number) or convince people to use a specific piece of software – many, such as Glassboard – which are very good, but do require intentional behavior on both sides.

I’m suddenly questioning the “mobile first” strategy.

I agree.

Once again, what may seem like a quibble: I have a mobile phone that also acts as a proximal device. It is the computer I have with me all the time — in the car, in a line at the bank, in the kitchen — but we are constrained because hardware and software developers and the phone companies think of it as ‘just a mobile phone’. 

We need to radically rethink proximal devices, and their use as communication tools, not just perpetuate a stupid metaphor of ‘mobile phone’. I don’t want a mobile phone. I want a new, smart way of communicating with other people through my proximal device, one that fits better into an intentional approach to work and play. And part of that would be a device that ‘knows’ when I am too busy to be interrupted, and takes action accordingly.

Facebook Entering The Next Social Battlefield: Social Operating Systems

A lot of buzz on the interwebs today about Facebook’s apparent third effort to build their own smart phone, and people trying to dissect the reasoning behind it.

Nick Bilton, Facebook Might Have a Smartphone in Its Future - NYTimes.com

For Facebook, the motivation is clear; as a newly public company, it must find new sources of revenue, and it fears being left behind in mobile, one of the most promising areas for growth.

“Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” a Facebook employee said.

Facebook is going to great lengths to keep the phone project a secret, specifically not posting job listings on the company’s job Web site, but instead going door-to-door to find the right talent for the project.

But can a company that is wired as a social network learn how to build hardware? Mixing the cultures of hardware and software designers is akin to mixing oil and water. With the rare exception of Apple, other phone makers aren’t very good at this.

The biggest names in consumer electronics have struggled with phone hardware. Hewlett-Packard tried and failed. So did Dell. Sony has never done very well making phones.

“Building isn’t something you can just jump into,” explained Hugo Fiennes, a former Apple hardware manager for the first four iPhones who has since left Apple and is starting a new hardware company, Electric Imp. “You change the smallest thing on a smartphone and you can completely change how all the antennas work. You don’t learn this unless you’ve been doing it for a while.”

He added, “Going into the phone business is incredibly complex.”

Bilton suggests that Facebook could simply buy RIM or HTC as a shortcut on the hardware side.

Connor Simpson, Do We Really Need A Facebook Phone?

do we really need a Facebook phone? From Facebook’s perspective, the parts are there, and so is the demand. You’d be hard pressed to find a young person who doesn’t have the native Facebook app, Instragram, and Facebook Messenger already on their phones. It makes sense that they’d want to put something in the market that comes preloaded with all of those apps anyway, along with further Facebook integration.  Plus, a Facebook phone probably may not help solve their current mobile problem. Facebook isn’t making any money from their mobile efforts. All of the Facebook apps are free, and they’re still trying to figure out ways to generate any significant income from their mobile efforts. They wrote in their S-1 filing that if users increasingly started to use Facebook on their mobile devices, they have no way to generate any meaningful revenue from those users. Charging upfront for a Facebook phone would generate revenue, but the real question is whether the cost to get a Facebook phone out would be too expensive to make it worth it.

There is a saying, generals spend a lot of time planning how to fight the last war and are therefore surprised by the new one when it occurs. In this case, Bilton and Simpson are focused on the current smartphone marketplace, the one dominated by Apple and Google, where social has largely been an afterthought, and where social capabilities have been provided by apps, like Facebook in a browser. (Leaving aside Apple’s partial integration of Twitter into iOS.)

The next war will be won by the players that build the best social experience into the guts of next generation smartphones. Social capabilities will be wired into the device at a foundational level, not at the application level. And this is why Facebook must develop its own operating system and mobile devices that run it. It must square off with Apple, Google, and, yes, Microsoft still has a chance, here.

What is amazing to me is that this goes largely unconsidered in these articles: the authors don’t really focus on what a social operating system means.

Smart mobile devices have unique handles for their owners — the phone number, email, and social signifiers (like @stoweboyd) — so, in the not too distant social future I could opt to follow a friend, like @gregarious, independently of applications. By doing so, my social smart phone would receive all sorts of updates from @gregarious — status updates, calendar posts, geolocal information, blog links — and my social O/S would attempt to handle this stream using whatever apps I might have associated with the various flavors of updates. But the fundamental follow would be managed in the O/S, natively.

Note that this could also work across different operating systems: @gregarious might be following me from a Google Android device, a Windows phone, or a Facebook phone. Each O/S might have different sorts of capabilities — Google might have Circles and Huddles, Facebook might have Pages, iOS might be based on Twitter esthetics — but the core functionality of receiving status updates and direct messaging would likely become universals.

At any rate, this battle is just over the horizon, and Facebook needs to build its offering as fast as it can, because Google, Apple, and even Microsoft have a huge head start.

(PS I still don’t understand why Apple doesn’t acquire Twitter, and really bake it into iOS.)

Update 1:03pm — Mathew Ingram weighs in, but never discusses the operating system battlefield.

Update 1:05pm Henry Blodget thinks a Facebook phone is a horrible idea, and after a long list of reasons — mostly saying hardware is harder than software — he closes:

Perhaps Facebook doesn’t really have any intention of building a full-fledged phone—perhaps it just wants to partner with someone like HTC or Samsung. But even then, all the same challenges apply.

Facebook already has an “operating system” for mobile—it’s called the social graph.

So instead of building a phone, which seems like a desperate move, Facebook should partner with every operating system and carrier and hardware maker it can to try to embed this social platform within every mobile platform. And it should build great apps to float on top of these systems. (And if Apple keeps giving it the brush-off, it should probably start by cozying up to Samsung, which is the only company giving Apple a run for its money).

Yes, everyone wants to be Apple.

But there’s only one Apple right now.

And Facebook’s chance of becoming the next Apple seems even smaller than Apple’s chance to become Apple was.

The fact that Facebook is even thinking of going into the hardware business is a bad sign. If Facebook actually does go into the hardware business, it will be a really bad sign.

The End Of The Road: Are Teens Turning Their Back On Cars?

Turns out that today’s teenagers are more interested in being connected than tooling around in the most iconic US symbol of individuality: the automobile.

Nick Bilton via NY Times

In a survey to be published later this year, Gartner found that 46 percent of people 18 to 24 would choose access to the Internet over access to their own car. Only 15 percent of the baby boom generation would say that, the survey found. “The iPhone is the Ford Mustang of today,” Mr. Koslowski said.

The teenager’s waning enthusiasm for driving predates smartphones. Statistics released by the Transportation Department note that in 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-olds in the United States obtained their first driver’s license. In 2008, only 30 percent did.

Those who get a license now drive less, too. The Transportation Department says 21-to-30-year-olds now drive 8 percent fewer miles than they did in 1995.

Ms. Connelly of Ford has an interesting explanation for the behavioral shift. Driving a car limits the valuable time teenagers could use to text-message with their friends or update their social networks, she said. Although public transportation or waiting for a ride from the parents is slower, it gives a teenager more time to engage with friends on a mobile phone.

There are a number of other trends involved here that Gartner might not track, since they obsess over information technology and gadgets, and less looking at the big picture:

  • The world is rapidly urbanizing, and as cities grow the per capita use of cars decreases.
  • Kids today are less likely to have jobs, due to the contraction of the economy, and jobs are one of the reason kids need to drive. And jobs are needed in many cases to pay for the expense of having or using a car.
  • Teenagers may be more conscious of the environmental impacts of cars, and as a result may be less interested in using them.
  • Because of the rise of texting and the social web, kids can remain connected with friends outside of school without having to go to the mall or go to a friend’s house to hang out.
  • With higher numbers of single parent households and both parents at work in two parent households, kids this age are relatively unsupervised in after school hours, and have less need for the freedom that cars afforded in the ’70s. They can do almost anything they want.
  • Costs of driving have risen, especially the increase in insurance for teenagers. [h/t @bonstewart]

It would be interesting to see the demographics of these numbers, but I can predict with high confidence that the more urban a kid is the less likely they are to get a drivers license at 16.

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