Is it too soon to call Facebook Home a dud?

The app is only two weeks old, but some are already counting it out

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
April 27, 2013
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Earlier this week, Home passed the 500,000 installs number on Google Play.  While that might seem like an impressive number, the fact is that it took over a week for the app to get there, and this inevitably led many to compare it, mostly unfavorably, to Instagram, which passed one million Android users in a single day. The thinking goes, if one Facebook property could be such a wild success on Android, then every other one should too.

But is it fair to call Home a failure only two weeks after it was released? Let's look at the evidence.

Home's current numbers

There is doubt that Home, which was released in the United States on April 12 and then to the rest of the world on April 16, has gotten off to a slow start. 

BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield took a look at  Home's ranking in the Google Play store from April 13 to the 24.  And what he found was that, while the app rose quickly, hitting a peak of number 50 on Google Play on the 19, it fell just as fast, going all the way back down to number 130 by the 24.

"With Facebook Home not even in the top 100 Android apps, it is hard to imagine its launch on additional phones driving installations (out of sight, out of mind)," Greenfield wrote.

As of April 26, the app has how fallen even further, to number 160 in the United States.

The 500,000 downloads look even smaller when you realize that Facebook has one billion monthly active members. At the rate that Home is going, it will take the company 76 years for all of those people to adopt it.

Most ominiously for Facebook, though, should be the reviews the app is getting. Sure, adoption is slow right now, but bad reviews, and friends telling friends not to download it because they don't like it, could cripple Home in its infancy.

The response from those rating Home on Google Play has been getting worse since it was first released, with the percentage of one star reviews increasing over the last two weeks.

The day after it was released, it had an average rating of 2.5 stars, and 1,028 one star reviews out of 2,343 total, around 44%. By the 16th, it had a rating of 2.3, with 2,012 one star reviews out of 4,221 total, over 47%.

As of right now, it has 7,201 one star ratings out of a total of 13,655. That is over 52% giving the app the worst possible rating. That is an onimous sign for Home's future.

So, yes, Home's numbers are really not looking so great so far.

But there's more to the story!

Saying that Home is a failure at this point is premature for a number of reasons, including the type of app it is and its limited availability.

First, let's tackle this "but Instagram got a million downloads in its first day!" thing.

By the time Instagram came to Android in April 2012, it had already been on iOS since September 2010, where it reached one million users in two months. The app had been around for around 18 months, where it steadily grew and was able to build an audience. By October, the Instagram Android app had hit 50 million downloads alone.

If Home continues at its current pace, it will actually reach a million users in a single month, so its already ahead of where Instagram was at the same time.  

It also has to be noted that Instagram and Home are two very different types of apps, and so users have entirely different expectations from them.

Home is a user interface that is meant to change the way people use their phones: by changing them to be centered around people, instead of apps. It completely changes the look and layout of both the home screen, and the lock screen, of a user's phone. 

Instagram, frankly, is just another app that the person might download and then never open again. I have it on my iPhone, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually used it. Users won't notice if Instagram is there or now, and so there is no second thought to downloading it.

Many fewer people are going to jump at the opportunity to put something on their phone that they cannot so easily ignore. And that means that people will be giving it more thought before they decide to put Home onto their phones. 

This may actually turn out to be fatal flaw for Home: you really, really have to want Facebook all the time to download it. And people who don't need to compulsively need to keep checking status updates are not going to want it, or like it. It's for hardcore Facebookers only. But comparing it to an app that runs in the background of the phone is comparing apples to oranges.

Then there is the fact that Home is not available on every phone yet. It can be downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy Note II, HTC One X and HTC One X+. And, of course, the GTC First, which comes with Home pre-installed. It cannot be truly judged until everyone has access to it.

And, thirdly, it is only two weeks old! When it first announced Home, Facebook said that it would be releasing an update for Home every few months, to give it new features and allow it to be downloaded on more devices. So we have no really even seen what it can do yet.

Greenfield acknowledged this as well, writing, "To be fair, Facebook is planning to iterate Facebook Home on a monthly basis, so new/improved features could re-excite consumers to download.  In addition, Facebook Home could benefit from being pre-installed on a wider-range of devices than (only) the HTC First."

While Home has certainly not gotten out of the gate to an incredibly fast start, comparing it to Instagram is unfair, and does not take into account a multitude of other factors.

VatorNews reached out to Facebook to get its perspective on the matter, but the company declined to comment, and  only reminded us once again that Home has limited availability at this time.

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