Facebook today announced Home, a redesigned experience for Android, which brings users’ friends to the forefront of their smartphones.
Home will be available for select Android devices at first, but will roll out to others over time as an optional downloadable application from Google Play. We got a hands-on trial of Home today at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, Calif.
Home is what is known as a “launcher” or “homescreen replacement,” software that presents the main view of a device and lets users access other apps or widgets. There are dozens of third-party Android launchers available from other smaller developers. Facebook’s Home brings parts of a user’s News Feed, messages and notifications to the lockscreen. Users can Like or comment on stories, and respond to messages without leaving the screen they’re on or opening another app. Facebook says its goal was to design from the perspective of “people first” instead of apps first. However, the familiar Facebook for Android, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and any other app users download are accessible just as they would be on a device without Home.
Here we’ll explain the main components of Home. Overall, it’s a slick user experience that deeply integrates the social network without being particularly Facebook-branded. However, for people who don’t use Facebook Messenger much or do not like having their personal messages and notifications displayed on their lockscreen, Home might not be as popular.
The cover feed is a stream of content from News Feed that appears on the lockscreen of the device. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg referred to a study that found smartphone users check Facebook nearly 14 times a day and look at their phone around 100 times a day. The company wanted to give users more value in the quick moments when they glance at their device.
For now, photo posts, status updates and links are included in this feed. App stories that include a user generated photo — such as from Instagram or Foursquare — will be eligible for cover feed. Page posts can also appear here. If a post doesn’t include a photo, Facebook will pull in a user or page’s cover photo to make the story more visual. Zuckerberg says ads are not currently in cover feed but could be one day. A full list of eligible stories is available here.
Cover feed stories cycle across the lockscreen automatically, but users can also swipe through them manually. Users can Like a post by double-tapping on the story. A single tap will bring up options to add a comment or view other people’s interactions with the post.
Home includes a new messaging feature called “chat heads,” which enable users to see and respond to SMS and Facebook messages in a pop-up window without having to navigate to another app or screen. Users can view a message immediately or save it for later by leaving the “chat head” circle on their screen. They can also reposition the chat head to any area of their screen or hide it completely.
Notifications from Facebook and other apps will appear on the home screen. Where possible, Home will use a person’s profile picture to make it clear who the notification is from, otherwise it will use a logo from the app that sent the alert.
The app launcher is the homescreen where users can access the main Facebook app or any other app they have on their device. There are shortcuts to start a status update, photo upload or check-in. The apps included here can be customized. There is another separate section for users to browse all their apps that aren’t saved to favorites in the launcher.
Users can get to the app launcher by clicking their phone’s home button. Or from the lockscreen, as seen below, they can swipe up to get to their apps. Swiping right will take the user back into the last app they used. Swiping left is a quick way to get into Messenger.
Home will be available for select devices via Google Play on April 12, including the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Home will also work on the forthcoming HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, and will be available pre-installed on devices through the Facebook Home Program, such as the HTC First. The company says Home will be updated monthly and a tablet version is in development.
Video and more photos of Home are available here.