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Friday, April 5, 2013

Smart Wars: Facebook Finds the Android It Is Looking For

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase
By The Wall Street Journal


Palo Alto, Apr.5, national stock exchange .- It is hard to overstate how much Google and Facebook dislike each other.
So it is one of the more delicious ironies of the mobile age that Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg plans to connect the world atop a platform built by Google.
On Thursday, Facebook released a new app for smartphones running Google's Android mobile-operating system. Known as a "launcher" app, once downloaded it takes over the home screen of Android smartphones from HTC and Samsung, for instance.
As it makes Facebook the primary experience on smartphones (and eventually on Android tablets, too) this will push other apps like YouTube and Google Maps to a secondary screen.
Both Facebook and Google sell advertising. So each is fighting for "engagement," looking to be a user's primary window to the Internet. Increasingly this is happening on smartphones as their sales drastically outpace those of PCs globally.
Google looks to hold Web users' attention through its ubiquitous search engine and a popular browser. It collects a toll in the form of paid clicks from advertisers for directing Web surfers to their content.
Facebook's approach is the flip side of the coin. It wants Web users to create and share their own content (through photos, status updates, links and the like) within its walled garden. The social network then charges advertisers to post billboards inside this garden where its billion-plus global users frolic.
And, make no mistake, people are spending tons of time with Facebook, especially on their mobile devices. In the U.S. in February, a fifth of the time mobile users spent consuming media was on Facebook, according to comScore. Users in some emerging markets may be even more engaged with Facebook.
That is why Google built its own sandbox for users to play in, Google+. Too bad for the search giant, though, that few are spending much time there.
The bottom line is that each company is competing for Web surfers' attention and, consequently, for advertisers' dollars. Hence the antipathy.
And much more is at stake than the attention span of current Internet users. Two-thirds of humanity still doesn't use the Internet. When they encounter it for the first time, it may very well be on a cheap smartphone that runs Google Android yet features Facebook as its core content.
Another twist is how Facebook is taking advantage of Google's strategy. The search giant has gotten amazing traction with its mobile-operating system. Android had 68% market share of smartphones shipped in 2012, estimates Strategy Analytics. Apple's iOS, the No. 2 operating system, had a 20% share. Reasons for its popularity: Android is an open platform, and it is free for smartphone makers to use. This encourages adoption.
Now, Facebook is exploiting the fact that Android is an open system to make an end-run around its maker.
Tying itself so directly to its rival is a risk for Facebook. Still, considering Google has so much advertising revenue to lose while Facebook has so much to gain, it seems a shrewd move..
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