Business, Rumors, Software Programs

Facebook Home tries to Rejuvenate the Social Network

On today’s "Home on Android" event, Facebook launched a brand new homescreen software for Android smartphone devices simply named "Home." With Mark Zuckerberg on stage, he explained how the company wanted to make something which deeply integrates with the Android system, and yet puts Facebook services in the forefront.

Meet the Facebook Home, new UI for Android
Facebook moves away from app oriented UI to people oriented UI

Facebook?s chairman and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg said that they are finally going to talk about that Facebook phone. "We are not building a phone, and we are not building an operating system," he busted rumors and his own teaser in one decisive swipe at the very start of the event, "it is about your Android phone."

Company will not make a phone for a number of reasons and one of them being ? the general availability. "Even if we did a good job building that (phone), we would still be able to serve only a few percent of people using our service," Zuckerberg noted. If nothing else ? it is a sound reasoning. 

While he was on stage, he added that a recent IDC study has shown that Facebook is by far the most used third-party application on smartphones overall, followed by Pandora and Instagram. Android email app, YouTube, Gmail and Twitter apps shared a similar (low) percentage. He continued on to say that people should come first instead of apps, and at that point he even smacked the current smartphone user interfaces of all platforms comparing them with the Windows 3.1. Facebook wanted to break the concept of today?s phones being designed around apps and not people – surely some of the companies involved in this industry would argue about that, but I digress. In order to do this, company focused on Android, with the platform being open enough for them to do what they wanted.

Meet the Facebook Home Apps
This UI is something that belongs to history, according to Mark Zuckerberg

Soon after that, it was time to present the Facebook Home, "a family of apps" ? more than a homescreen piece of software itself. One of those "apps" is called Cover Feed, and it is the one dedicated to put content from this social network to user?s lockscreen and homescreen. User can then interact with the content (comment it, like it, etc.) immediately from those screens in what really looks like an intuitive and fresh chromeless approach ? miles away from regular Android interfaces we are accustomed to today. "Home screen is really a soul of your phone … it should be deeply personal," said Zuckerberg while showing some of the content that populates the Cover Feed. He then noted that there is no need to enter or exit apps, as it is all there. "We wanted it to feel like a system software, not like an app," and it does appear they have managed to do just that.

Messaging was put on a special emphasis during the event, with Mark basically saying he considers it to be broken ? we need to go in an app after we see a notification from it, then back… and it gets worse if we are inside an app already and we want to interact with another one. Solution presented from the Home is the "Chat heads," a circular icon containing a photo of a person messaging the user together with the number of received messages. Whether user is browsing the internet or simply in another app ? those circles will hover over anything if a new message is received. User can move them around the screen to position them as he wants, he can group multiple icons (when multiple persons are sending messages) or even discard it all to read at a later time. "We need it (messaging) but we don?t want it to be annoying," you could hear from Zuckerberg at the presentation. Text messages and Facebook messages shown after user taps on the icon (or a Chat head if you will) share the design, and aside from the subtle green background there is nothing else that can say it is from another app or of different functionality.

Starting on April 12th, Facebook Home is coming to these phones...
Starting on April 12th, Facebook Home is coming to these phones…

Facebook Home will become available on a wide range of Android devices starting April 12 through the Google Play store, but tablets and some devices will have to wait. Mostly tablets, for their interface and functions are still under development ? and should be ready ?within several months.? Some of the devices which will be supported at launch are HTC One X and One X+, Samsung Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Note II. Facebook Home should be updated on a monthly basis, and every single upgrade should bring more functionality and fixes if need be, but even now it is worth noting that the company allegedly spent months of testing to make sure everything was a ?smooth ride.? When it comes to monetization issue, Zuckerberg added that ads will eventually show up on the Cover Feed.

This was not all that happened on the event, as we actually managed to see the infamous "Facebook phone" although it is not theirs per se. It is manufactured by the HTC under an awkward name – HTC First and is a part of the special Facebook Home Program for phone manufacturers/carriers. Aside from the HTC, Sony, Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei, Orange, AT&T, EE, Alcatel and chipmaker Qualcomm also partnered up with Facebook to support the program.

HTC’s Peter Chou took the stage to present their solution in the form of the smartphone HTC First. AT&T?s Ralph de la
Vega named it the "First Facebook Home optimized phone," while announcing the pre-order availability for 99$ on a 2-year contract. AT&T also posted several videos that briefly demonstrate some of the Facebook Home functionality:

Device itself is of a simple, soft-touch design, without chrome of any kind – there are no logos or marks of any sort on the front of the slab. Back side hides the HTC, Facebook and AT&T logos – and that’s about it. When it comes to the specs, the 4.3" device is running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) with the Facebook Home experience out of the box. It is powered by a dual core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU, 16GB of storage and 1GB of RAM.

Thus far, it is not known whether the rest of the manufacturers will make devices similar to the HTC First (by making the Home a default homescreen), or will merely focus on making the Facebook Home experience as optimized as agreed in partnership.