is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
Somehow last year I ended up owning an HTC One X in addition to my iPhone. It’s never been particularly useful (AT&T has stranded it with an older version of Android) but now it has a purpose in life: the One X is among a few of the first phones that will run Facebook Home, just announced yesterday with much fanfare. I will definitely be installing Home on my One X when it launches on April 12.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about Facebook, most of them negative. But I do respect what they’ve done. You’ve got to; awful as it is in so many ways, it’s too massive, and too difficult to ignore.
Facebook Home, at least at first blush, only gives me more reason to respect them. I see at least two reasons to believe that the company may have pulled off things that other, similarly massive companies have tried and failed at.
First, Facebook Home seems to be a genuinely fresh approach to what a phone operating system can be (whether it really qualifies as an OS or not is debatable). Its conceit is that it eschews the ‘app-centric’ approach that almost every other smartphone OS takes, preferring instead a ‘people-centric’ approach. If it works, it will be a meaningful differentiator in the market, and more or less exactly what I criticized Blackberry for failing to do with their newest phone products.
Second, Facebook Home aims to wholly subvert the resident operating system on the Android phones on which it runs with Facebook’s own ecosystem. I think mostly of Adobe in this regard; for years, they’ve taken an insurrectionist approach with their Creative Suite software, piggybacking what amounts to an entire, largely unwanted operating system’s worth of code (if not features) along with Adobe’s otherwise useful applications. It’s always been a bear for end users, and it has hardly succeeded in establishing CS as a beachhead for doing anything other than what you would have turned to Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator for without it.
If Facebook Home sees wide adoption among both users and developers, it will achieve exactly what Adobe strove for: supplanting the OS that came preinstalled on your hardware (unless of course you buy the HTC First) with something entirely different, effectively stealing customers away from Google. That’s incredibly bold, and if they pull it off, wow. I won’t like them any more for it, but I will respect them more.
One more begrudging note of appreciation, offered again with the caveat “if Facebook Home succeeds”: this could be the definitive contribution to the argument that Mark Zuckerberg is the most talented product designer since Steve Jobs.+