It’s not exactly a Facebook phone. It’s not exactly a Facebook application. It’s Home, and it will be on select Android devices starting April 12. The company announced Thursday that the HTC First, as previously rumored, will be the flagship for deep Facebook integration, and other phones will have these capabilities soon. From these devices, Facebook will make a highly visual Cover Feed the focus, bringing users closer to photos, status updates, check-ins — and, someday, ads.
Facebook wants to change the way that Android users interact with the social network on their phones. Instead of having Facebook as just a compartment on the phone — next to Angry Birds, Twitter, or Instagram — Facebook will be the platform and the home screen.
The HTC First will be the main phone for this technology (on sale for AT&T customers starting April 12, for $99.99), but Facebook said that the HTC One, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S IV, and Samsung Galaxy Note II will also be able to download Facebook Home.
While it’s not a phone or an app, Facebook explained in a diagram more clearly what this is.
Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about the motivation behind this kind of technology:
What would it feel like if our phones were designed around people, not apps? … We want to bring this experience of having a home, of always knowing what’s going on around you, right to your phone. And we want to deliver this experience to as many people as possible.
The phone itself is fairly small (roughly the size of an iPhone) and lightweight, with a smooth plastic body. Many people were initially worried that these features might drain the battery life, but a Facebook rep told AllFacebook that the battery life on the HTC First is “incredible.” There was no word on the battery life of the other phones that will have this deep integration.
From the home screen, users can see the latest posts from friends and pages that they’ve liked.
Users can swipe to scroll through stories (or wait and the phone will do so automatically), which will place a premium on photo posts. Stories such as status updates, links, shared stories, check-ins, and photos will be seen through this interface. Facebook said that this feed is sorted with the same algorithm as the default News Feed, meaning that users will see posts from friends with whom they’ve engaged the most, as well as pages.
One day, Zuckerberg conceded, users will see ads through this interface. There is no way to control which friends’ posts will be seen from this home screen, like the sorting options present in the redesigned News Feed. Zuckerberg talked about ads in Facebook Home during a Q&A session Thursday:
No ads in this yet, but I’m sure at some point there will be.
To access apps, users can tap their faces on the lower end of the screen. Facebook’s native app, as well as Instagram and Facebook Messenger, will already be on the phone, with the rest of the apps being the default Android ones. Facebook said that notifications can be tailored to users’ preferences, or turned off if they’re too distracting.
Tapping a name leads the user to the person’s Timeline on the Facebook native app.
Facebook also introduced an interesting feature called Chat Heads. If you’re reading a story or surfing somewhere off of the Facebook app, and a friend sends you a message, a little bubble pops up. Wherever they are on the phone, users can tap the button to respond to the message or swipe it away if they want to ignore and answer later. Facebook said that Chat Heads will not show up when a user is engaged with a full-screen experience, such as a game or movie.
One notable omission on Facebook Home is the inability to share. Facebook loves to get users to share, especially on mobile, but the company has usually been late to the game in terms of allowing users to do so on their their phones. It took a while before Facebook finally integrated a one-tap share button into its iOS and Android apps, and it appears that Facebook Home is following a similar pattern.
From a story on the home screen, users can comment or like, but not share. Facebook said that this might come in a later edition of Home, but is not available now.
Yes, you can call from this device, too. However, it’s not as simple as most smartphones, where the call feature is front-and-center. To access the phone part of the phone, tap the apps menu.
Readers: Are you interested in a phone with this kind of Facebook integration?
Photos courtesy of Facebook.