While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg trumpets the company’s new “Home” suite of apps as a major shift in the smartphone world by putting people, not apps, at the center of the user’s experience, Microsoft isn’t buying it.
In a blog post Friday, Microsoft’s head of corporate communications, Frank Shaw, said that idea of making a socially focused smartphone has been Microsoft’s guiding star since it introduced Windows Phone 7.5 two years ago.
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and co-founder, announced the social network’s new app integration with the Android platform at a West Coast press event on Thursday.
“I tuned into the coverage of the Facebook Home event yesterday and actually had to check my calendar a few times,” Shaw wrote. “Not to see if it was still April Fools Day, but to see if it was somehow still 2011.”
Since Facebook’s announcement, many have suggested that the move is a bid to take on Google’s Android platform by building a new launcher for Android’s top-selling smartphones from Samsung and HTC.
Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu wrote in a note Friday that the new interface could pose a threat to Android by becoming a new main screen for its phones, relegating other services -- such as Gmail, Search, YouTube and the Google Play app store -- in the background. He also noted that Facebook’s software poses a threat because it further fragments the smartphone platform. Fragmentation, when different Android manufacturers use different versions of the system, makes it more difficult for developers to reach a large swath of users, even though Android is the most-popular smartphone operating system in the world.
Wu said that he found Facebook’s social-centric approach “refreshing,” though he added it could be too easy to replicate. He did not mention Windows Phone in his note.
Yet Microsoft’s Shaw was not the only one who saw similarities between Microsoft’s Windows Phone and Facebook Home in the hours after the company’s event.
Adam Leach, an analyst with Ovum, noted that Microsoft has tried “very hard” to position itself as the main socially focused smartphone by unifying social networking streams and using its home screen to feature social updates using social networking profile photos.
Leach was skeptical that Facebook’s Home apps would take off with any group apart from its most avid users, particularly since so may people use more than one social network to keep in touch.
“I use Facebook a lot, but I also use Twitter and other things,” he said. “The idea of being dominated by that one service is still, personally, not quite what I want.”
Shaw noted in his post that Microsoft already unifies users’ social streams and allows users to pin updates from friends and family members to their main screens.
He said he applauds Facebook for “working to give some Android owners a taste of what a ‘people-centric’ phone can be like.” But he suggests that, instead of Facebook Home, “you get the real thing, and simply upgrade to a Windows Phone.”
(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)
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