It hasn’t yet been six years since the start of the smartphone revolution and we’ve already become an “always on” culture. At least, that’s the temptation. Those who submit can be called The Immersives: checking e-mail, keeping tabs on Facebook “friends,” debating on Twitter, snapping photos of food for Instagram. It would be rare if any of us didn’t have at least one toe dipped in the stream.
We are all Immersives sometime: We bury our faces in the small screen while we walk, or come dangerously close to driving blindly into traffic. We can’t get through a meal without virtually leaving the table. We keep our phones on permanent silent to conceal the depth of our addiction. If we even momentarily lose track of our phone, we are as anxious as new parents whose toddler has dipped out of sight.
Immersives are the target audience for Facebook Home, a new version of the social network’s app that was announced this week. Home lives on the front side of the lockscreen — it’s the first thing you see when you pick up the phone. It’s a major release that reveals the extent to which Facebook needs us to stay Immersives to help it meet its bottom line. This decade’s major technological question is: Who’s in control — our phones, or us?
Facebook is the flagbearer of the former. In a press event Thursday to unveil Home, CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to position this app as a breakthrough for “us.” Smartphones, he said, are designed around apps and not people. This is clever messaging: A smartphone’s customization is all in its apps. We have little control, on any platform, of what our phone serves up for us the moment we pull it out of our pockets.
Facebook Home is perhaps the first of what Wired’s Steven Levy has already coined as the ”super apps” — always on, always current, and the first thing you see. Super apps come with an easy sell: If you are immersed in one thing more than others — Zuckerberg says we spend almost a quarter of our time on smartphones on Facebook — why shouldn’t your phone give you the option to put that app on a virtual pedestal.