Facebook Home Unveiled: Facebook-Centric Software for Android Phones

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Putting all of the speculation and hype to rest, Facebook on Thursday finally rolled out Facebook Home, revealing a software platform ultimately aimed at turning any Android smartphone into a Facebook-centric device. On April 12, the HTC First will become the first phone to ship with Facebook Home aboard, but the platform will also become downloadable from Google Play on the same day for a handful of other phones, including the HTC One, One X, and One X Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Note 2.

“We want to bring the experience of having a home, of having everything you need right around you, to your phone,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at a press event at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, CA.

“We want this to be available on as many devices as possible.”

Prior to the launch, Facebook Home had been rumored to be either a phone running a new version of Android or a new software platform capable of operating across lots of phones.

Actually, Facebook Home turns out to be a new software skin for Android phones running the Jelly Bean or Ice Cream Sandwich versions of the OS, containing a set of custom homescreens and widgets.

‘There’s Been a Lot of Speculation on How We’ll Build This’

“There’s been a lot of speculation on how we’ll build this. Are we going to build Facebook OS? Are we going to fork Android? No. That’s not the right way to do this,” said Cory Ondrejka, director of mobile engineering, also speaking at the event.

“You can decide whether you want [Facebook Home] to be a home screen, a lockscreen or both,” according to Zuckerberg.

From a phone outfitted with Facebook Phone, you’ll be able to use either Google Search or Bing. On the other hand, though, at the outset, Facebook Home will not support Android folders or widgets.

New Feature: ‘Chat Head’ Bubbles

Facebook demo’d a key feature in Facebook Home called chat heads. “We think that chat heads are this great, personal way to do messaging,” Zuckerberg said. With chat heads, when a user’s Facebook friends start a new chat, their pictures pop up in small bubbles on the screen.

“You should be able to talk to your friends no matter where you’re at in your phone. Friends shouldn’t be siloed off into some app. This is exactly what we wanted to fix with chat heads,” contended Joey Flynn, Home’s product designer.

Also from the home screen, you can view notifications and status reports, comment, and flip quickly through friends’ photos.

Facebook announced a set of partners for Home that includes chip maker Qualcomm; carriers AT&T, Orange and EE; and the following OEMS: HTC, Samsung, Sony, ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, and AlcatelOneTouch. No software developers are on the list, though.

Facebook plans to update the Home platform once a month. “Right now, we wanted to focus on the things we see people sharing most. Pictures, status updates. That’s 70 to 80 percent of the content on Facebook,” Zuckerberg said.

“[But] there’s a lot of content out there that people want to see: pinterest feeds, instagram feeds. We’d love to see that. We’re not going to update this once a year. Updates, new features, will come once a month.”

Privacy & Advertising Concerns?

The Facebook Home software platform will also include “basic analytics” on how people are using their phones, to help Facebook “refine the user experience,” according to Zuckerberg.

Interjected Adam Mosseri, director of product: “Yeah, we collect basic analytics data, but we anonomize it quickly. It’s the same sort of stuff that everyone collects.”

Facebook isn’t planning a tablet version of Facebook Home yet, Ondrejka said.

Facebook Home will also be downloadable from Google Play for the Samsung Galaxy S4 when that phone becomes available.

As some analysts see it, though, Facebook Home raises concerns around both privacy and advertising.

“To Facebook, this is about becoming more deeply embedded in the operating system on mobile devices, and creating a broader platform. Since Facebook doesn’t make an operating system for mobile devices, this is the next best thing. It will allow Facebook to track more of a user’s behavior on devices, and present more opportunities to serve up advertising, which is Facebook’s main business model,” said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms officer at Ovum.

“And that presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict. Users don’t want more advertising or tracking,and Facebook wants to do more of both.”

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