Apr 22, 2015 · 2 minutes

Facebook's attempt to use the Android platform for its own purposes by releasing the Home launcher was an unmitigated failure. It changed the experience of using Android too much and offered users too few benefits.

Now the company wants to use a dialer app called Hello to realize that same goal without alienating users or changing everything about their smartphone.

Hello works like most other Android dialer apps. You download it, install it, allow it to take the place of the default "phone" application, and use it. The selling point: It has access to all kinds of Facebook data.

Phone numbers uploaded to Facebook now make it easy for Hello to identify callers, help people find the contact information for local businesses, and send some people straight to voicemail. Missed calls can also be responded to with Messenger for when a phone call isn't convenient but an instant message is.

The whole thing relies on Facebook's data. If it doesn't know your friend's number and you don't have it stored in your phone, it can't identify them. If a business hasn't included a phone number in their Facebook profile or -- gasp! -- isn't on Facebook the app is quite obviously unable to display that information.

But if you've bought into Facebook's ecosystem, there isn't much reason not to download Hello. And that's what the company is banking on: that it has enough information about enough people and businesses to be useful to its customers.

This is merely a continuation of Facebook's new mobile strategy. Instead of offering one app, it offers many, ranging from Facebook Messenger and Hello to Instagram and WhatsApp with the hope that you'll download all of them.

As I wrote when Instagram announced a new application called Layout shortly after it released knock-off versions of popular apps like Snapchat and Reddit:

By adopting this approach, Facebook has become like an off-brand manufacturer of popular existing services. Snapchat becomes Slingshot. Reddit becomes Rooms. A few years ago, the company even tried to create its own Instagram knock-off, Facebook Camera. But unlike Oreo’s infamous coup of Hydrox’s throne, none of these imitators have managed to overthrow the apps and services with which they compete.

Yet the company continues to make more of these secondhand products. Why? Probably because Facebook knows that a smartphone home screen has limited space, and if it manages to make at least some of these mimics stick, it can take control of mobile devices without having to make its own platform. Until then, all it has to do is rip various aspects of its service out from its 'big blue app.' It's a bit like throwing a frog into a pot of boiling water. If it gets too hot too quickly -- which is what Facebook tried with Home -- the frog jumps out. But if the water temperature is steadily increased a few degrees at a time, which is what Facebook's doing by releasing all these apps, the frog accepts its fate.

Consumers are the frogs in this scenario. Facebook overstepped, and now it's being more careful by trying to ensure that nobody notices its efforts to take over their phones. Home was a full-scale invasion; Hello is a covert mission. So far it seems that the latter approach is working out better for Facebook.

Now the question is if it will work better for consumers. The frog ends up dead in either scenario, after all -- it's just a matter of how much fuss it puts up first.