So the Facebook phone is real. Well sort of. Facebook has announced what it is calling Facebook Home. It is a new home screen that can be installed across any Android device and essentially turns your phone…into a Facebook phone.
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, said that today phones were more about apps and Facebook wanted to make them more about people. He said that Facebook Home was a way to transform people’s phone ‘and “turn your Android phone into a great social device”.
Zuckerberg said: “How would it feel if our phones were designed around people, not apps? Very different. We have our phones with us all the time. More and more we just want to know what’s going on with the people around us.”
How you do that in Facebook’s world is to put the social network at its centre and this is what Facebook Home does by transforming the home screen of your smartphone.
Facebook Home, which to be clear isn’t an operating system, will take up the whole screen on your device and allow you to access your apps, to read and respond to messages, browse newsfeeds and access other apps.
Zuckerberg said that the home screen was really the soul of a person’s phone. He said it “sets the tone of your whole experience and we think that it should be deeply personal. It’s a family of apps and it becomes the home of your phone”.
One of the key parts of Facebook Home will be messaging. While messaging is currently treated like just another app, that isn’t Facebook’s vision. One tap on Facebook Home will take you straight to messaging. The Facebook Home app launcher will include all apps, including for instance Google Play, and not just Facebook ones.
It also replaces the lock screen and home screen. Facebook calls it “a window into what’s happening with your friends – friends finishing a bike race, your family sharing a meal or an article about your favourite sports team. These are the beautiful, immersive experiences that you get through Home”.
Since Home is both your lock screen and home screen, the idea is that content comes right to you. This allows you to flip through to see more stories, and double tap to like what you see.
Notification pane – The notification pane will include your most important messages, including text messages. If someone posts on your timeline for instance, you’ll receive notifications with their profile pictures. To open notifications, just tap them and if you don’t want to deal with them right now, you can just swipe to hide them and keep flipping through cover feed until you want them back.
Chat Heads – this is a new messaging widget that appears in other apps and will allow you to have whole conversations without leaving the app you are in. Facebook showed how Chat Heads worked while in the New York Times app.
Joey Flynn of Facebook said: “Chat Heads makes you feel like your friends are always there. You can carry on multiple conversations with the people you care about, and you can tap back to switch.
“We wanted to focus on the experience, as it doesn’t matter what app you use or technology, just as long as your friends are there.”
The first Facebook Home phones
In answering why Facebook wasn’t building the much-speculated Facebook phone, Zuckerberg had this to say: “A great phone might sell 10 or 20 million units at best, but our community has over one billion people. Even if we built a really good phone, we’d only be serving 1%.”
Facebook also confirmed that the first phone featuring Facebook Home would come from HTC, which has been linked with most of the previous Facebook phone rumours.
It will be available in the US on April 12 for $100 (£66), exclusive to AT&T. That gives an indication that the HTC First is aimed at the entry level end of the market.
Initially, Home will be available on the HTC First and the range of HTC One phones, as well as Samsung Galaxy Galaxy S III Samsung Galaxy S4 (Future) and Samsung Galaxy Note II.
Other users with recent Android phones will be able to download Facebook Home on the same day. A tablet version will be available at a later date.
In Europe, the HTC First will be available exclusively with Orange in France and EE in the UK from this summer. The download will roll out globally within the coming weeks.
Zuckerberg said: “I‘m really excited for this moment. At one moment this is the next mobile version of Facebook, but at a deeper level, this can be a change in how we use these mobile computing devices.”
He said that Facebook Home was part “of our changing relationship with technology” and that it was coming at time that we are about to see “the most empowered generation of people in history”.
He said it was really an honour “to be able to work on these problems and that it was both “a deeply technical problem but also a deeply social problem… We look forward to sharing it with all of you”.
Ads on Facebook Home
What Facebook Home will also very likely mean is more Facebook ads, but this time on your home screen.
However, Zuckerberg gave no details at launch, but it is almost certainly part of Facebook’s strategy. Robin Grant, global managing director, We Are Social, sees huge potential for mobile advertising with the launch of Facebook home.
He said: “The highly filtered Cover Feed could offer an opportunity for news feed advertising at a premium over Facebook’s existing offering. But more than that obvious development, Facebook Home could be the holy grail of mobile advertising.
“Aside from mobile operators, no other company else is able to keep track of a consumer’s location at all times – which, privacy settings permitting, Facebook could now do with Home.”
Chat Heads also offers possibilities, Grant speculates. He said that it could provide a potential mechanism to allow location-based ads to appear in a relatively unobtrusive way, which is something the mobile operators don’t have.
Grant said: “If Facebook can use this to deliver location relevant and timely commercial messages to consumers, it will effectively give Facebook a licence to print money – their long sought-after equivalent of Google’s AdWords.”