Even as it's about to make another billion-dollar purchase of a mobile application, social media juggernaut Facebook appears somewhat less than successful in getting consumers to make its network the center of their phone user interface.
Downloads of Facebook Home, which adds custom features to some Android phones, appear to be sluggish in the three weeks it has been available, while user reviews have been unkind, with an average rating of two out of five stars on Google Play.
Got a Buck?
And this week, AT&T drastically dropped the price of the HTC First, which comes preloaded with Home, to just 99 cents (with a two-year voice and data plan). That suggests sales since its April 12 release have been weak, but neither AT&T nor HTC is giving up details.
"We do these kinds of promotions all the time," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told us, declining to address sales. "We don't comment on the results of individual manufacturer handset sales." An HTC spokeswoman did not respond to our request for comment in time for publication.
The First was previously available for $99.99 with a two-year contract. The 4G, long-term evolution data-equipped First is powered by Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), has a 4.3-inch display and packs a 1.4-GHz Qualcomm dual-core processor. AT&T also sells the iPhone 4, outdated by two versions, for 99 cents with a contract.
Facebook Home reached the range of 500,000 to 1 million downloads, as measured without specifics on Google Play, 10 days after its release. The measurement is for the past 30 days. Android's regular Facebook app, as well as Instagram and Twitter, are all in the 100 million to 500 million installs for the prior 30 days. Facebook has an estimated 1 billion user accounts.
For HTC, which is struggling to gain share in a market dominated by Samsung and Apple, marketing an otherwise unremarkable device around the Facebook interaction seems a questionable gambit.
Preloaded Not an Advantage
"Time will tell if the Facebook Home page will be a draw to purchase a specific phone preloaded given that folks can download the homepage on supported devices right now," said wireless analyst Kirk Parsons of J.D. Power and Associates. "The latter will probably be the more popular method among smartphone owners,."
In addition to the First, Home is supported by the HTC One X, HTC One X plus, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. Downloading the suite adds the applications Cover Feed, Notifications, Chat Heads, App Launcher and Instagram, essentially making Facebook and the home screen of a smartphone one and the same.
On Thursday, it was reported that Facebook has offered to buy the Israeli start-up Waze, which makes a popular crowdsourced navigation app that includes traffic updates. The price tag could be between $800 million and $1 billion, which is the price Facebook paid for Instagram last year.