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Thursday’s event for Facebook Home has come and gone, and what we got isn’t the Android fork or heavily-modified Facebook Phone that some expected. Instead, Facebook is releasing a customized launcher for the HTC First and other major Android smartphones like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. Facebook Home is set to launch in the Google Play store on April 12.

It’s easy to question the path that Facebook chose here. Why would it continue to leave its fate in Google’s hands by offering what amounts to a skin of the Android operating system? Why not fork Android or create a brand new OS? That’s a valid point. But if you look at it with a more pragmatic eye, Facebook’s toe in the mobile pool is a much wiser move than a full-on cannonball.

Samsung's TouchWiz is a launcher/skin built on top of Android, just like Facebook Home.
Samsung’s TouchWiz is a launcher/skin built on top of Android, just like Facebook Home.

To see what the future might hold in store for Facebook, one can look to a company named Samsung, one of the world’s leading smartphone manufacturers. Samsung is by far the most popular Android device maker and the compnay offers a skinned version of Android’s UI called TouchWiz. And with the unveiling of the Galaxy S4 last month, we saw Samsung add more proprietary software features, like hover gestures and eye tracking.

Samsung has used as much Android as its needed and has built on top of the OS to provide extra functionality. As a result, people love Samsung’s phones. Should Samsung move to another operating system — Tizen, as is heavily rumored — many customers might come along for the ride.

Facebook may want to put out its own Android variant (similar to what Amazon has done) or even develop an operating system of its own. But the fact is, there’s no real way to gauge consumer demand for such a product — that is, unless Facebook offers something like Home to see how interested people are in a Facebook-heavy smartphone experience. The company can offer Home to users on many different smartphones and, if the product is well-received, can then explore the possibility of developing its own Android flavor or independent OS.

If this is Facebook’s logic behind Home, it’s pretty brilliant. It lets the company get a foot in the door without completely committing or throwing a bunch of time, money and resources at something that might not be successful and could damage the company’s reputation. The mobile operating system market is pretty cramped right now with iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, and don’t forget that the Firefox OS and Ubuntu Phone products are trying to elbow their way in, too.

Home is a safe way to test the waters. The failure of a launcher is much better than the failure of an entire OS and ecosystem, after all.

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