Facebook Home available for select HTC and Samsung devices from April 12th
Facebook Home is a new launcher and messaging skin available for select Android devices and has been confirmed for download from Google Play from April 12th. According to a favourable review from The Verge, Facebook Home will initially be available on the HTC One, One X and One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 and Note 2, as well as being the default launcher on the soon to be released HTC First. Home offers deep integration with your Android device and as such will not be available for all devices straight away, although Facebook have promised to expand the range of devices that are supported with monthly updates to the service.
Home replaces the launcher on your Android device – the software that is used to display your homescreens and lockscreen, display and manage applications on the screens and the app drawer, manage notifications and more. If you are using one of the intended HTC or Samsung devices then you will probably have got used to using a version of either Sense or TouchWiz respectively, the skins that both companies employ ‘on top’ of Android. Home will get rid of this interface to replace it with its own (although you can at any time go back to the original launcher by disabling or uninstalling Home), so be prepared for quite a bit of change to the way your device looks after installing.
Read on below for more details on Facebook Home and the features it will add to your device
Cover Feed is one of the major features in Home and combines your lockscreen and first homescreen into one full page Facebook feed. New posts from all the friends you follow on Facebook will be displayed as the main homescreen, fading into each other gracefully or allowing you to swipe through them. Controls will let you like and comment directly from the homescreen. Currently, hiding posts from friends will need to be done through the main application or the web but this may be updated in future iterations of Home.
Default settings mean that you will not have a separate lockscreen on your device after installing Home, so pressing the button to unlock will instantly allow whoever picked up your phone to have access to your Facebook feed. Those with security on their mind or who simply want to avoid the embarrassment of unsolicited updates and comments will want to head to the settings to allow your pin / pattern lock to be reinstated at the ‘top’ of the interface.
App management and interface
Home dramatically simplifies the Android phone environment and interface. Depending on your usage this will be either a very good or a very bad thing – power users with heavy customisation are probably not going to want to install Home at all, however they are not really Facebook’s target market. This would be the more casual user, who probably owns a modern smartphone more due to it being available from a network provider than through serious informed choice and does not invest too much time in customising their handset.
Once Home is installed, you can reach your apps by moving the personal “bobble” (a circle with your profile picture in it) to the “Apps” icon at the top of the screen – going left opens Facebook’s Messenger app and your most recently used app will be available to the right. The “Apps” section displays all of your apps in alphabetical order at the far left, swiping to the right takes you to relatively familiar feeling customisable 4×4 grids where you can place your icons as you please. A set of icons above the grid will also allow you to instantly update your status, check in or upload a photo.
This first version of Home does not allow you to create folders or use widgets on these grids, although time will tell if this is added in future updates. This is incredibly simplified and could frustrate those who use widgets extensively (I for one have many widgets for changing profiles, data / wifi usage and messages etc. and the idea of going into into the settings regularly would be annoying), however it might be all the level of customisation many users will need.
Notifications are presented in a ‘stacked’ manner over the main Cover Feed for easy access and can be opened or removed with a simple tap or swipe. Currently this is limited to SMS and Facebook Messenger / Notifications – once again integration with other service such as e-mail, Twitter etc. may arise in future updates. Notifications from other services are still accessible from the Android notification bar (although without changing settings, an extra down swipe from the top of the screen is required to display the notification bar – Home hides it by default).
Chat Heads is the final major feature of Home and allows for seamless communication with contacts during other apps. Generally when you are using an app on an Android device and a notification comes in, you are forced to either switch apps to respond or deal with the pop-up notification that appears first.
A Chat Head is a small circle with your contacts’ profile picture included that will appear unobtrusively at the edge of the screen when they message you (again currently limited to SMS and Messenger although there is support for group Messenger feeds). You can pull the Chat Head into view when it appears, tap on it to respond, and then flick the head away to resume what you were previously doing.
4 Chat Heads can be active at any one time and accessible from the top of your screen when inside any app, but only the most recent Head is displayed at the edge of the screen when notified. The idea is sound and looks both intuitive and natural to the way many of us interact with smartphones, making communication just that little bit quicker and more simplified.
What Home is really doing here is wrapping all of the text conversation inside Facebook Messenger, so when you open Messenger, the Chat Heads will disappear. Hopefully support for emails and other social media notifications will be added soon to allow a single thread of conversation – something that WP8, BB10 and other earlier operating systems have all nailed in their respective communication hubs.
Home will greatly deepen the integration of Facebook with your smartphone and will inevitably increase your interactions with the service. Once installed it will probably also give you cause to review exactly who and what you follow on Facebook to tailor what gets displayed. With the recent introduction of Graph Search, this is is probably exactly what Zuckerberg et al. want – current users interacting with Facebook more regularly and in a richer manner to provide a better service both individually and as a whole.
Home is definitely geared towards the casual smartphone user and is likely to find favour with its slick Cover Feed, although the initial change of layout and UI once installed may shock the very same casual audience that is being targeted. For power users however, Home is likely to do little but restrict productivity and provide unnecessary distractions.
Facebook Home will be available to download from Google Play on April 12th.