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While “Facebook Home” Keeps Google, Search Is Harder To Reach
Pick your survey, and one of the top activities on a smartphone is to use Facebook. That’s what the new Facebook Home is all about, making it easier for Facebook users to get Facebook. But it also makes another top activity — search — harder to do.
On Android devices, search is almost always just one touch away. Most current devices have a Google Search bar at the top, while older devices have the old-style search button at the bottom.
Facebook Home turns search into at least a two-touch, or two-step, process. It doesn’t appear to be a purposeful move to somehow oust Google. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed full of praise for Google and wanting not to impact what people’s search experiences are. Rather, it almost feels like an oversight.
Consider the two screenshots below:
On the left is my Galaxy Nexus. You can see the Google search bar at the top. If you want to search, you just tap on that box — one step (if the phone is locked, then it’s two steps).
On the right is a phone with Facebook Home. There’s no search bar. If you want to search, and this is a Facebook Home Partner device (like the forthcoming HTC First) you have to tap your picture at the bottom (step 1), then drag up to open your app drawer (step 2) then tap on the search box that appears at the top of that (step 3).
Here’s another side-by-side, this time with the HTC First (on the left) next to my Galaxy Nexus, showing how you can eventually get to the search bar:
If you’re on a non-Facebook Home Partner device, one that has the latest version of Android and is deemed Home capable, the bar goes away entirely.
For example, here’s how things look on the Galaxy S3, after you’ve opened the app drawer:
That’s the full screen. The search bar is nowhere to be seen, no matter which app pane you switch to, either. I’ve had two people from Facebook confirm that if you add Facebook Home to a device not part of the partner program, the search bar goes away.
So how are these Facebook folks who’ve been using the Facebook Home already conduct searches? They open up Chrome, then search from within there.
That works, of course. Plenty of people search in a similar way on iOS devices, by going through Safari or an alternative browser like Chrome. But for those used to one-touch “app-less” search, Facebook Home makes that harder.
Is this on purpose? Like I said, I doubt it. It’s certainly not the impression I got when talking briefly to Zuckerberg about it. He made it pretty clear there was no intention of trying to change search around for people.
“We don’t want people to have to choose do I want to be in this Facebook mode or a different mode. We want it to be additive,” he said. “The swapping out of Google’s functionality isn’t really something we want to do here.”
What about the idea that people may want to do local searches, and while Facebook effectively has a local search engine, Facebook Home doesn’t seem to help with that? Zuckerberg simply said Facebook had “a lot of opportunity” to show such content in the new Cover Feed or within the Facebook app itself.
But on the web, Facebook Graph Search is in part designed to better provide access to local information. Will Facebook Graph Search come to the app?
“When that’s available, hopefully we’ll be able to make that available here [in Home]. But even Graph Search, Graph Search is not web search. People still need Google or Bing of whatever they use for web search.”
Is Zuckerberg perhaps being cagey, holding back on a secret-uber plan to eventually have Graph Search take over on these devices. Perhaps. And I do think Graph Search is going to come. But really, the impression I got was that search has largely been overlooked with the launch of Home.
Consider that Facebook repeatedly talks about how it’s now a mobile-first company, and how more people are using it through mobile devices. Graph Search — and its partnership with Bing — are key features of the desktop experience. Neither of those are ready to follow Home over?
Down the line, of course, Facebook could potentially prompt people to change search providers — it could offer to be a search provider itself. But would that mean Bing would become part of that partnership on mobile, as it is on desktop? Or might Facebook worry that perhaps some might react badly to the idea of not having Google as their search engine?
We’ll see. But for now, it’s pretty clear that if you depend on some direct access to Google search, you’re going to do some additional steps in the future, if you go to Facebook Home.
As for Google Now, that seems to remain unchanged. A single hold on the main menu button with the HTC First will bring that up. The Vine video below shows this, after I first show the steps you go through to do a search:
On a non-partner device like the S3, a hold on the main menu button brings up access to Google Now via the G icon, at the bottom of the screen:
For more about Facebook Home, see our related coverage below:
- Facebook Launches ‘Home’ – A New Android Home Screen Experience
- Hands On With Facebook Home Cover Feed And Chat Heads
- Facebook Home Cover Feed Won’t Have Ads, Yet
Further below is more background about Facebook Graph Search.