In a clear sign that sales are pretty weak, AT&T and HTC dropped the price of the First, the only phone to ship with the new Facebook Home Android app right of the box, to $0.99 from $99 this week.
The phone launched less than a month ago.
Facebook Home is an Android app that adds a Facebook wrapper to your phone’s home screen. Instead of the normal app icons, you see Facebook’s Cover Feed, a moving slide show of photos and status updates from your Facebook friends. You can like or comment on Facebook content directly from Cover Feed without opening up the regular Facebook app. Home also hides the rest of your apps in a specially designed menu that sits beneath Cover Feed.
But the news of the First’s massive discount is only one signal that Facebook Home is off to a slow start. According to sources, analysts, and user reviews in the Google Play store for Android apps, Home is a dud so far.
After we reported the news about the First’s price drop, one source familiar with Facebook employees’ thinking on Home said our headline, “HTC’s Facebook Phone Is Clearly A Flop,” was “sadly, very right.” Another source with knowledge of the HTC First sales wouldn’t provide numbers, but did hint they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves at AT&T stores.
Facebook declined to comment, deflecting the question of First sales to AT&T instead. An AT&T spokesperson said the First’s price drop is a “current promotion that AT&T is running both in stores and online.” The spokesperson would not comment on specific sales numbers. HTC declined to comment too.
Facebook Home is only compatible with a handful of devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X+, and Samsung Galaxy Note II in addition to the HTC First. As analyst Benedict Evans noted a few days before the Facebook Home launch, it’s impossible to know how many Home-compatible devices are actually out in the wild, but he pegs the number at 60-70 million units. Evans expects Facebook to make Home work on all devices running Android version 4.0 and above by the end of the year, which would be approximately 375 million phones.
But even with a large potential install base, Facebook has to convince those people to install and keep using Home.
Facebook announced that Home has been downloaded nearly 1 million times, but many user reviews are pretty negative and the app has a two-star overall rating in the Play store. It’s unclear how many users are actually keeping Home on their phones.
“I tried it, and to be honest, it was just too much,” wrote one reviewer. “I would like it better if it was just a lock screen, but it gets annoying. Plus, it hid most of my other apps.”
Other reviewers echoed what tech critics have said, specifically that Home is only good if you’re obsessed with Facebook.
“It was fine for a Facebook addict,” one reviewer noted. “But [it] seems to run through a lot of data and battery. Uninstalled.”
Despite all these negative signals, it doesn’t look like Home is going away. One of our sources close to Facebook said Zuckerberg is still incredibly optimistic about the app and wants it to succeed. Plus, the product isn’t finished. Facebook unveiled some new features this week that will be coming to Home soon in an update like a dock to store your most-used apps and an easier way to switch between the Facebook Home screen and the regular Android Home screen.
Nicholas Carlson contributed to this report.