Now that Facebook has gone public, there is incessant pressure to increase revenues. With the growing importance of the mobile platform to Facebook’s success, it’s no wonder that over the years, Mark Zuckerberg has had to regularly debunk persistent rumours of a so-called “Facebook phone”. After all, Facebook has dipped its toes into the waters before with the HTC Cha Cha in 2011, which featured a dedicated button to quick-launch the Facebook app:
But as Zuckerberg shrewdly pointed out, such a phone could never hope to reach more than a fraction of their billion-plus users. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy S3, the best-selling Android phone by the world’s largest smartphone maker, has shipped out 50 million units as of March 2013. An impressive achievement, but a mere 5% drop in the Facebook blue ocean.
Last week, Facebook held a press conference to unveil their vision of the Facebook phone – they want every phone to be a Facebook phone.
“Facebook Home” is an app launcher for the Android platform. App launchers are basically software that determine the look and feel of your phone’s lock screen, home screen, and app drawer. It’s the part of the phone that users interact directly with, and Facebook is determined to claim that space as its own.
With Home, Facebook is in your face from the second you turn on the screen. For example, you can browse even through your Facebook newsfeed without unlocking the phone. This makes snacking on little nuggets on Facebook a much more streamlined process.
Here’s a quick demo review by The Verge:
Facebook Home was initially available at launch for a selected range of HTC and Samsung phones. But new software updates in the past week have introduced limited functionality for other Android smartphones and iOS devices. I’ve been trying out Facebook Home for the past week, which is probably enough to provide an accurate overview.
There are three parts to Facebook Home: the app drawer, Chat Heads, and lockscreen.
The app drawer is similar to your typical app drawer containing icons of all your installed apps. Swiping right reveals extra pages for your most frequently used apps. The biggest difference is the addition of dedicated Facebook shortcuts at the top of the screen to update your status, upload a photo, or check in at a location. I disabled the app drawer after just five minutes. This is a real pain to use – I needed extra swipes and taps to open my favourite apps, and widgets are no longer possible. No widgets? That’s one of the greatest benefits of using an Android smartphone over an iPhone, and Facebook for some reason have decided to eliminate them.
Chat Heads allows you to message your friends from within any app simply by clicking on a floating bubble of your friend’s profile photo. It combines both Facebook messages and conventional SMS text messages. It makes conversations much less of a hassle as you no longer need to jump between apps. Playing pong by flicking the bubbles across the screen is pretty entertaining too. Useful for many, but not for Whatsapp users like me.
The new lockscreen is the most intrusive part of Facebook Home. I see status updates and photos from the instant I turn my screen on. However the presentation is beautiful, with elegant typography and photos scrolling slowly across the screen. Even mundane photos look measurably better here. After my initial shock, I actually began to like the lockscreen. It sure makes for a refreshing change from my static lockscreen, providing a different “wallpaper” every time.
How to get Facebook Home
Facebook Home is officially available for the latest HTC and Samsung phones, such as the HTC First and Samsung Galaxy S4. But helpful hackers have already found a workaround, which was how I have installed Facebook Home on my LG Nexus 4.
Chat Heads is available for most smartphones if you update to the latest version of Facebook messenger.