When people talk about the HTC First and why it could have flopped, most resort to just blaming Facebook Home for lacking features or being too tied in to the Facebook ecosystem. These are both fair arguments, I suppose. Facebook Home did strip away a lot of what people like about Android in favor of a closed Facebook-controlled environment, as well-designed as the UI was.
What I’m surprised about is virtually no one making the link between the HTC First and Microsoft’s Kin One and Kin Two devices of 2010. Those were discontinued very shortly after they came out and shared a common theme with the HTC First: completely social. The Kin line had its own UI that aimed to be social in every way possible: easy ways to post to your social networks, quick access to contacts, super quick way to share any photo or website, etc. Everything was about social networking. The one difference is Microsoft wasn’t afraid to admit these were mainly geared toward teenagers and twenty-somethings, while HTC/Facebook seemingly wanted everyone using Facebook Home.
Being of a somewhat younger age, my friends and I use technology from a different perspective as I’ve come to realize. So I have my own theory on why phones like the HTC First and Microsoft Kin never reach success. It’s because they scream “Desperate!” Honestly. That’s why. In other words, no one wants to look like they dedicate all of their time to social networking or more specifically in the HTC First’s case, Facebook. It gives the impression that they don’t have a life, quite frankly. Why do you think people often shy away from posting too many Facebook statuses or tweets per day? The more you post, the more it looks like you need to get out more.
On a regular iOS or Android device, Facebook and Twitter and the like are mere apps that blend in with all the other apps. On Android you can add widgets and what not and on iOS you have additional integration within Settings, but that’s it. Social networks don’t consume your entire phone experience. On the HTC First, sure you can access other apps on the smartphone, but you’re still within Facebook Home’s environment the moment you close those apps. It’s all social, all the time. No one wants that.
I read about a week ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote his thoughts on Facebook Home best: “it’s a well-designed implementation of an idea no one wants.” And the main reason for not wanting it is it’s simply not acceptable. Try bragging to your friends that you just bought a Facebook phone. Spoiler alert: you can’t because it’s nothing to brag about. It’s stupid. Smartphones are a source of pride now — people love showing off their high-tech phones. We all do it. Smartphone and platform wars wouldn’t exist if we didn’t.
You could argue that phones are inherently social because they are communication devices. I suppose that’s true, but regular smartphones are social when you want them to be. You can send out a text, choose to answer a phone call, or tap the Facebook app icon to launch a social network. If you just want to listen to your music collection, your phone is no longer social.
The big factor we’ve all missed is the “lame” factor. It’s often omitted though because we don’t like to admit that the coolness of a product or concept does affect whether we want it or not. The Microsoft Kin was lame, the HTC First and Facebook Home are lame, and any device in the future that makes you seem desperately attached to your online friends will be lame.