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Context, Commerce, and Content Will Battle for the Android Lockscreen

One area where I’ve been spending some time meeting companies and learning is in the broad area of Android UI customization. I’ve started to see a handful of companies providing interesting approaches to customizing the Android home screen UI as well as taking over the lockscreen to provide consumers with information or entertainment.

It’s not surprising to me that people are spending lots of time trying to own this real estate – it’s the first thing you see when you pick up or unlock your phone. According to one report, people swipe their phones 100 or more times per day. That’s a lot of views and time that nobody currently controls. And the opportunity to be the first thing that people see (or control the experience that they see) that many times for day is a really interesting opportunity for both startups and established companies and one that I expect to get more competitive in the near term. There are already a few startups tackling this space, namely Aviate, Cover, and Locket, along with a few other teams and companies that have not yet launched or publicly announced what they’re doing. And then there are some of the newer Android hardware devices that include things like Active Display Notifications that allow you to peek at incoming items without actually unlocking your phone.

The interesting thing to me is that I’ve seen three relatively distinct approaches around how to better use the homescreen and lockscreen real estate. I think they can all be successful but all have really different approaches and value proposition for consumers:

Ad-Driven Monetization Experiences

Many of these seem to be inspired by the Cash Slide experience in Korea, where consumers earn a small amount of money for swiping on ads or otherwise interacting with promoted content with the lockscreen. The primary hook or driver here is obvious – it’s a way for consumers to earn money (real or some form of reward currency) and there is already a pool of advertisers willing to get their marketing messages in front of consumers on that screen. The ultimate test of these models is whether customers will, in the long term, continue to have an interest in looking at ads or other promoted content and whether the companies providing this promoted content can have a good mixture between things that monetize well and things that engage the consumer.

Putting Social Front and Center

Another approach for building launcher and UI customization is Facebook Home. I think Facebook Home is still a very interesting experiment in how much persistent screen real estate and UI consumers are willing to give up in order to stay connected to the core Facebook experience. I think Facebook is out in front in terms of pushing the boundary of what’s possible here and I imagine they’re learning a lot about what consumers like and dislike about having a more pervasive social experience outside of the core application.

Beyond Facebook, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more social applications on mobile (the new crop of messaging services, Twitter, the newest crop of photo services, etc) move toward making their product experiences more pervasive over time. And I would also expect some developers to start building social application experiences like Home that pull from multiple services.

Context and Content Driven Intelligence

The last major approach I see people taking is making the lock screen and overall layout smarter by taking into account context (location, upcoming meetings, interest, etc) and matching that with relevant content. That can include anything from using knowledge of my calendar to push me information that’s relevant for my next meeting even if my phone is locked (something richer than a simple push notification) to more complex scenarios like pushing me breaking news complete with video or imagery (as opposed to just a link in a push notification) when topics or interests I follow have meaningful updates. I think this is a really interesting area to explore, but it is also likely to push these companies toward the current arc of Google Now. For me, the big unanswered question is how hard Google will push Google Now to the forefront of the Android UI experience. Google Now already does a pretty good job on context and content but it’s not (yet) front and center in the Google experience. I read a good Ars Technica article on their take about how Google is beginning to push some of its services more to the forefront.

As always, comments are open or you can send me messages on Twitter @chudson.