Pictured: Martin Cooper (from ArrayComm) & Facebook Home
Yesterday the world celebrated the 40th anniversary of Motorola's demonstration of its portable telephone, the DYNA TAC system. Martin Cooper, then Vice President of Motorola, Inc., is said to have called a rival at AT&T's Bell Labs from the streets of New York City. According to an April 3, 1973 press release from Motorola, the new portable phone was expected to be available for public use as soon as 1976. The cell phone took a bit longer to take off with the public, but four decades later smartphones have become part of our daily lives and today president and CEO, AT&T Mobility, Ralph de la Vega was on hand at Facebook's big unveiling of Facebook Home.
As David Vales, Senior Systems Engineer for Interbrand, noted in his recent blog post, Smart Phone Sector Heats Up With Big Launches, with BlackBerry's Z10 now available in the US and Samsung's release of the S4, which Vales describes as "very impressive," the smartphone race is intensifying. Today's Facebook unveiling was the introduction of Home, software designed to "turn your Android phone into a great, living, social phone," according to Tom Alison and Adam Mosseri in Facebook's newsroom. The first phone to come with Home pre-installed will be the HTC First, available exclusively from AT&T on April 12. Home will be downloadable on other Android devices, but won't have all of the features of HTC First.
"Apps aren't at the center, but people are at the center and we bought into that" said de la Vega at the event. The new Home-ready HTC First phone will run on AT&T's 4G LTE network and will cost $99.99. Tech writer Chris Taylor who heads Mashable's editorial team commented, "Great coup for HTC and AT&T -- probably the largest captive audience they've had for a phone announcement." Mark Zuckerberg noted, "By putting people first, and then apps, it's one of many small, but meaningful changes in our relationship with technology over time."
Facebook Home brings its News Feed experience to users' mobile home screen. The new Home experience includes Cover Feed, Notifications, App Launcher, Instagram and Chat Heads. The latter, a mobile messenger that allows users to reply directly to friends instantly or move a floating head image of a friend when not ready to respond, inspired strong reactions in the comments section of Mashable's live streaming of the event. Chris Taylor reacted,"'Chatheads.' -- really?" and "'Chathead.' it really is going to take a while to get used to that word."
Caitlin Barrett, Associate Director of Verbal Identity for Interbrand and the creative lead for Naming, responds to the name Chat Heads, "It's hard to say whether Chat Heads will change behaviors and expectations the way the 'Like' button did, but the name is just as absurdly simple—and perfectly aligns with the new chat experience."
Barrett adds, "Is it awkward? A bit, as it doesn't seem necessary to specify the parts of your friends with which you're chatting. And it doesn't fall naturally into everyday conversation: Will we talk about it like a platform? 'We talked on Chat Heads earlier today…' Or an activity? 'Let's Chat Heads later tonight.' This might very well be the point. If Facebook wants this to simply be the way we chat on Facebook, perhaps it doesn't want to take the hit by trying to brand what could easily become a generic term for this new style of chat. So is it a bad name? Certainly not. We all giggled at the iPad when it was first launched too, but as long as the functionality proves to be differentiated and useful, the name will cease to be part of the story."
What does Facebook Home for Android mean for Apple? Several commenters in Mashable's chat and on Twitter expressed new shifting interest from Apple phones to Android.
As discussed on CNBC recently, concerns about Apple are growing. Colin Gillis of BGC Financial, CNBC's Jon Fortt and Interbrand's Jez Frampton discussed the slowdown in orders at China's Foxconn and if this is a sign of problems for Apple. Frampton observed, "In terms of the brand, there's no doubt about the fact that Apple still is one of the pacesetters in the market, Samsung are giving them a good run for their money, but this lack of innovation is a concern. To be honest we've been taught as consumers to expect the next new thing every other week almost, and now they're slow on the iPhone 5S. And what's next? Where's Apple TV?"
Gillis added, "The market is still valuing [Apple] well north of $400 billion, but the market is changing. What we're seeing is lower cost competitors are getting traction. ...For Apple to maintain their margins and to maintain the volume units, they need to keep innovating and that's an issue for the company right now."
What does it mean for Google? Commentor Lance Ulanoff asked Chris Taylor during the live chat today, "Has anyone asked specifically about Google+? Chris Taylor responded, "Nope, but this really does seem like another nail in Google+'s coffin." JoeyMartin91 commented, "If I'm Google, I'm nervous. Facebook just took my niche market and rewrapped it." Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and former CTO of Best Buy, tweeted:
The reveal today raises a number of questions about privacy concerns, battery life and, of course, consumer interest. Understanding consumers will have many questions, Facebook has planned for trials of Home before users commit to downloading it or purchasing the HTC First pre-loaded with Home, a smart move. We'll also be following this initial post with more on Home and what it means for the marketplace in blogs to come.
Amy Edel-Vaughn is Interbrand's Community Manager.