Take a look at your iPhone. Chances are, the lockscreen is probably cluttered with notifications about e-mail, news, weather and other information. All of these notifications are produced by separate apps, built by separate developers, and all routed through Apple's iOS.
Now, Facebook wants to take all that information and route it through a platform it controls instead: Notify, an app that's purpose-built to send you notifications.
With Notify, you subscribe to various "channels" that provide you with information you might otherwise get via someone else's app. Want CNN breaking news alerts? You can get those through Notify by toggling a setting. Want sports scores? You can get those through Notify, too. Updates about the new Star Wars movie trailer? Yep. Just make sure Fandango is enabled in Notify.
Notify isn't just a bid to get you more information, faster. What it really stands for is an attempt by Facebook to become the dominant interface for your own smartphone.
By now, you're probably familiar with Facebook's overall strategy, which is to ensure that consumers spend as much of their Internet time on Facebook. This leads to more user engagement with Facebook, which means more ad revenue, which means a stronger business. Facebook has an incentive to keep you on its social network, or on properties associated with the social network, as much as possible.
In an ideal world, perhaps, Facebook would sell tablets and smartphones that would keep you within the company's ecosystem all the time, feeding information back to the mothership about your online activity. But that would be expensive, and besides, companies like Apple are already the best at producing hardware.
In that respect, Apple represents a barrier to greater user engagement with Facebook. In order to reach Facebook's app, users have to unlock an Apple-built lockscreen, swipe through Apple-built homescreens, tap on a Facebook app that's designed to meet Apple specifications. What if Facebook could bypass all that, reducing the number of steps before Facebook could begin interacting with users?
Josh Miller, who now works at the White House but was once on Facebook's team, wrote precisely that in a blog post last year.
"Your push notifications live one level above every single app," Miller wrote. "No matter which icon you tap first every time you open your phone, or which service you check twenty times per day, the push notifications on your lock screen are always the first feed you see when you use your smartphone."
Miller went on to predict a future social app that revolved around notifications. Notify sounds quite like this idea, even if Miller may have played no direct role in creating it.
This wouldn't be the first time Facebook has leapt into the smartphone user-interface world, either. In 2013, the company unveiled Facebook Home, a launcher for Android phones that, when installed, replaced the default Android homescreen. At the time, Om Malik called the idea a "start button for apps that are on your Android device." Facebook Home basically made Facebook the portal through which all other Android interactions took place.
Notify takes this idea further. With Notify, you could disable many of the notifications your various apps currently produce and simply rely on Notify's version. Acting on those notifications allows you to read full articles, watch linked videos or open up entire sites, according to its promotional page.
In the same way that the Internet is increasingly being consumed through apps, more apps are now going to be consumed through Notify — or at least, that's the future Facebook is hinting at. More broadly, it suggests Facebook is interested in supplanting key aspects of all mobile operating systems, which is of course the next best thing to actually selling its own.