Facebook’s approach to the mobile race is going to be a little different from everyone else’s. Instead of making their own operating system, Facebook has announced a new platform that fits on top of Android and allows users to approach their on-the-go social experience in a whole new way.
The idea of a Facebook Phone has been rumored for years, but something about it has never really made sense. Facebook attracts millions of users a day, but their platform can be contained in a single app on any smartphone. And even if you used Facebook all the time, it is unreasonable to assume you’d want a phone that did nothing but what you can do on their website. Basically: there’s a huge amount of things our smartphones can do, so even if Facebook is the most commonly used app — as Mark Zuckerberg suggests — why limit things? Instead of a whole new operating system, Zuckerberg and crew wants Facebook to be able to create a “new category of experience” that heavily ties in the Facebook ecosystem.
Through a series of apps Facebook is calling “Home” you can completely re-skin your Android phone to tie in the Facebook experience. This includes a new lockscreen, homescreen, and interaction method. The new lockscreen integrates the Facebook feed directly, so full frame images cycle through with status updates. There’s a gentle animation with your Facebook icon in the center to let you know it’s your phone. This feed continues when your phone is unlocked, showing you a constant stream from your Facebook. You can comment and like posts in line as they happen, with simple gestures and zero navigation anywhere.
When you want to navigate, you drag your Facebook icon around and reveal your basic options. Here you can see your app drawer and a quick jump back to the last app you are on, as well as your messenger. When you launch an app, the experience will be mostly the same as it is on any other Android phone. Nothing about the underlying system has been taken away in terms of apps that you’re going to run outside of Facebook, including the notification drawer. If you’re a fan of Android 4.2 lockscreen widgets or desktop widgets, that experience is pretty much gone in this format.
Messaging is a big part of the new Facebook platform, and it is handled in a pretty clever way. The messaging platform, chat heads, functions as a layer on top of everything. When you have an active conversation, that person’s avatar sits in a bubble on top of everything that you can move wherever you like. When you go to message someone, the conversation floats over the thing you were doing without affecting that app at all. This system works for SMS, group messaging, and one on one Facebook chat as well.
Facebook Home is going to be available on a select number of handsets, with plans to expand rapidly. The entire Facebook Home project plans to update rapidly, with monthly dates set for new features, fixes, and supported phones. Tablet support is planned for the future, but there’s no timetable for when this experience will be coming to tablets. Facebook as a software download will be available on April 12th, but if you’d rather have your own Facebook Phone, HTC and ATT have what you need.
The HTC First, not to be confused with the HTC One, will be coming to ATT exclusively later this month. This phone is the first to include Facebook Home by default, and will be available for $99 on a new two year agreement. Compared to some of the phones on their way to the world in the next few weeks, the First is nothing to write home about hardware wise. It’s going to be available in four colors and appeals directly to the younger Facebook audience.The phone itself is a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus with 1GB RAM, 5MP rear camera, and 1.6MP front-facing camera. The 4.3-inch 720p display alone makes the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One well worth the $100 bump in price by comparison, and both of those phones will support Facebook Home.
HTC won’t be alone for long, if Facebook has it their way. The Facebook Home Program, which was announced during the launch event, is specifically geared towards bringing other hardware manufacturers and carriers on board. If the First is even remotely successful, expect to see a growing trend in Android phones that come with Facebook Home by default. Overall, the presentation was impressive. If you’re really into Facebook, there’s some great reasons to download Facebook Home. If Facebook is just something you do casually, chances are this isn’t for you.