Millennium Post

Are you posting away your life to mark Zuckerberg?

On 4 April 2013, the mobile phone celebrated its 40th birthday. Forty-five-years-ago on this day Martin Cooper made, what went down in history as the world’s, first cellphone call, dialing Joel Engel, a rival of his from a hand-held mobile phone, just to show that he could ??.

It was a stunning technological leap at a time when people did not even have a cordless phone. The tech journalists of that time however were not impressed.

Some called the cell phone a portable baby while others called it a weapon you could use to defend yourself in a dark street. A majority of journalists prophesied that no one would be willing to pay for a portable phone. Fast forward – 40 years and 1 day later – Mark Zuckerberg  introduced Facebook home on all android devices. He promised a ‘Facebook phone’ in the form of HTC.

Tech journalists are not so snarky and skeptical this time around. There is a good reason for that. The cellphone has now become as ubiquitous as sliced bread. In India, there are more people with mobile phone subscriptions than there are people with access to proper sanitation.

So what relevance does a software cum phone launch have in the lives of India’s techizen’s? Considering that Facebook has over 50 million active users in India, it should have a lot of relevance.

According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the number of mobile Internet users in India is 87 million and it is expected to nearly double and hit 165 million by March 2015.This rather pertinent Internet Trends Report says that mobile Internet accounts for 59.36 per cent of the total Internet usage in India. Another important fact is that Internet enabled smartphones are getting cheaper by the day. Today an android phone with decent build quality retails for as little as Rs 5,000.

As telecom technology becomes increasingly accessible, more and more users will log onto Facebook. The neighbourhood romeo will send a ‘friend’ request to the girl next door which will be summarily rejected. Investment bankers will solve criminal cases virtually. The uncle who you thought was a sedate and a sober man will post pictures of himself in a Hawaiian shirt doing bungee jumping. In short, using mobile phones and using Facebook will get progressively entrenched into our daily lives.

It is in this scenario that  Zuckerberg’s move to announce Facebook home displays mammoth ambition and holds significant relevance. The move is not surprising from a man who had David Fincher make an entire movie on his life, while he was still in his late 20s. According to Facebook, ‘Home isn’t a phone or an operating system, and it’s also more than just an app’. This of course is Facebook’s smug way of saying that Facebook Home is the mobile phone operating system, everyone in the tech world had predicted Facebook would launch.

With Facebook home Zuckerberg aims to kill multiple birds with one stone. By announcing Facebook Home, he effectively seeks to monopolise the home screens of all android users. This means that all other apps will be neatly tucked into a far forgotten corner in the smartphone. Through sending all other apps into exile Zuckerberg hopes that out of sight means out of mind. It’s not a leap of imagination to assume that the engineers at Googleplex are spending sleepless nights. The move is smart on many other fronts too. Its tie up with HTC ensures that Facebook fanatics can also get their very own Facebook phone if they so wish. In adding a layer onto existing android operating systems, by the means of Facebook home, Facebook saves on the cost of making its own hardware. As Google’s ill fated experiment with netbooks shows, making hardware for slick software may sometimes not be the wisest move.

It’s a realistic assumption that if Facebook Home takes off then rival companies such as Microsoft, Twitter and Google could end up building similar ecosystems. But by announcing it ahead of everyone else Facebook Home has significant first mover advantage.

The primary concern in this matter is not one of just technology. It also has a human angle to it as well. Facebook phone ensures that Facebook has unrestricted access to user information and privacy remains a concern. How Facebook addresses phishing is also of deep concern as mobile networks are particularly susceptible to hacking.

Tech journalists across the Internet have started predicting that with Facebook Home, Facebook may become the technological equivalent of Hotel California. As the lyrics of the song go, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

It remains to be seen whether the netizens of India adopt Facebook Home en masse and whether the predictions of tech journalists are true.

If history is anything to go by tech journalists have been wrong before. Just ask those who had predicted that the cellphone will be a dud.
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