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Facebook turned your lock screen into the new Twitter

Mike Elgan | Nov. 17, 2015
Facebook's new app uses notifications on your lock screen as a 'newspaper.' And so the war over lock screen real estate begins.

The Facebook ideal is that several of the apps on your phone will be Facebook apps (Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Paper). But if you think about it, these are all apps you're likely to want notifications for. Lock screens, especially on iOS, could easily be dominated by notifications from apps owned by Facebook for millions of users. And that’s Facebook’s master plan.

It's also worth pointing out that Notify gives Apple Watch users watch notifications automatically, without having to launch a specific Apple Watch app.

Facebook has been hesitant to embrace the Apple Watch, Android Wear and other smartwatch platforms. I suspect that the company is all about massive scale when it comes to users. It doesn't want to be associated with any platform that will garner just a few million users.

But it also doesn't like screens that don't have a big Facebook presence. By dominating smartphone notifications, it will also dominate smartwatch notifications, which often mirror what's happening on the phone.

Whatever you may think of its be-everywhere strategy, Facebook is really onto something with its desire to treat the lock screen as the medium.

Another iOS app that does something similar, and probably better, is's awkwardly named TL;DR (the initials for "too long; didn't read"). Like Notify, TL;DR involves linking to a token app that presents content from various publishers. But mostly, the content is meant to be "consumed" from the lock screen.

The lock screen is also being used as a note-taking medium. Microsoft offers an Android app called Parchi that's designed to allow you to take notes directly on the lock screen.

And a wide range of apps use the Android lock screen as an advertising medium. Users can either get paid for installing and running one of these apps (one pays $6 per month) or get points that can be redeemed for gift cards by watching or reading ads that the app displays. The apps in this category include Slidejoy, Slide, SlidePak, Cash Slide, Latte Screen and others.

Most of these are targeted at specific Asian countries, such as Pakistan or Korea. Still, as lock screen real estate becomes more valuable, and the price of manufacturing a smartphone drops, it's likely that some phones in some markets will be made available at no cost or with free wireless accounts as long as lock screen ads can't be turned off.

The use of the lock screen as a bona fide communications medium has existed on the fringe for a while. But with the launch of Notify, Facebook is bringing the lock screen into the mainstream as a coveted space for content. And that means other companies will start coveting lock screen space as well.

The good news is that if your lock screen gets too busy, you can always just slide to unclutter.


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