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Industry passes judgement on Facebook Home for Android launch

Android overlay could provide social media giant with smartphone testbed.

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Social networking giant Facebook took the wraps off a new overlay for the Android operating system last night, which is slated for release on 12 April.

This overlay, dubbed Facebook Home, will make access to elements of the site faster and easier for Android users from their mobile devices, the company claims.

During the launch event, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the aim of Facebook Home is to create a more people-centric space on mobile devices, as opposed to apps and tasks.

However, a few industry watchers have suggested the software's launch is another attempt by the firm to encroach on search giant Google's territory.

Victor Basta, managing director of financial services firm Magister Advisors, explained: "By going 'over the top' of Google's prized Android operating system, Facebook is doing exactly what Google did to the internet, sitting on top of a chaotic system, making it simple and uniform through a proprietary layer, and underpinning this with deep search functionality."

He also claimed Facebook is "hell- bent" on breaking Google's dominance in the internet search market using a mix of deep mobile device integration and Graph Search, the company's recently unveiled search engine service.

The offering allows Facebook users to sift through their contacts for information about places to go, and people with similar interests, for example.

This approach allows Facebook to base its search terms on a behavioural understanding of its users, said Basta, which is not something Google is in a position to offer.

"People and interest-based search is emerging as the driver for Facebook's next $100bn of value," he added.

Meanwhile, Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at market watcher Ovum, said Facebook Home could help the firm tackle the thorny issue of making money from mobile advertising.

"It will allow Facebook to track more of a user's behaviour on devices, and present more opportunities to serve up advertising, which is Facebook's main business model," he said.

"And that presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook's objectives and users' are once again in conflict. Users don't want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both," he added.

The offering also allows the firm to gauge the potential appetite for a Facebook-branded phone, although the firm announced last night that HTC will be the first to launch a device with the software pre-loaded.

"If it does turn out to be successful, Facebook can build on the model further and increase the value provided in the application over time," he said.

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