On Thursday, after weeks of building up to it (and years of Facebook phone rumors), Facebook unveiled the closest thing to a "Facebook Phone" that exists. This comes in the form of a new "family of apps" for Android, and an actual phone from HTC with the family pre-loaded. The experience is called Facebook Home.
What are your first impressions of Facebook Home? Future of Facebook and mobile communications or meh? Let us know in the comments.
Facebook's mission with this offering is to make your phone more about people rather than about apps. The core feature of Facebook Home is the Cover Feed, which takes over as your home screen, and lets you swipe through the latest photos and updates from your Facebook News Feed. You can also interact with the posts from there (liking, commenting, etc.).
But it doesn't end there. Notifications appear on the home screen in a visual way. As our own Zach Walton explained, "All notifications will show up on the home screen as separate entries. Tapping the notification will bring up the Facebook app for further interaction. If you want to get rid of it, you can just toss it off the screen. Holding one of the notifications will lump them all together if you so wish to disregard all of them at once."
To even access your other apps in the first place, you have to hold the image of your face that appears (see that little image of Mark Zuckerberg below) and swipe it up to the appropriate place.
There is a feature called "Chatheads," which allow your Facebook and text messages to follow you through your other apps. Messages (via these little heads of your friends) will show up at the top right of your screen regardless of what app your'e in.
For a more hands-on look, you might want to check out this demo from The Verge:
Okay, some of you are probably thinking: I don't even use Android, so why do I care about this? Fair point, but Facebook indicated that it wants to provide an experience like this across all phones. This is easier said than done, however.
Facebook chose Android because of its open source nature that allows it to take over your phone in the manner it does. It's not so easy for all operating systems. Zuckerberg specifically talked about how Apple's control over iOS simply does not allow it to offer this kind of experience on an iPhone. It would take a partnership for that to happen.
Facebook already does have a relationship with Apple. As you may recall, Apple touted heavy Facebook integration in the latest version of iOS. Here's what Zuckerberg had to say about Home on iOS in an interview with Fortune:
We’d love to offer this on iPhone, and we just can’t today, and we will work with Apple to do the best experience that we can within what they want, but I think that a lot of people who really like Facebook — and just judging from the numbers, people are spending a fifth of their time in phones on Facebook, that’s a lot of people. This could really tip things in that direction. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Of course only a select few Android users even get access to Facebook Home at this point. It's only launching on a handful of phones, which is somewhat ironic given Facebook's desire to have it on every phone. It's coming to the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II, as well as the newly introduced HTC First, which features Facebook Home pre-installed.
For developers, Facebook has created some new opportunities with Home. The Cover Feed feature lets users access app content as soon as they turn on their phones. More on that here.
For Businesses, not only will your Page's posts and photos be more readily available to users due to the in-your-face nature of Facebook Home, but Zuckerberg says ads will be coming to the feature at some point.
Another thing that could make Facebook Home more useful to both users and businesses is the eventual addition of Graph Search. Graph Search has not even been launched on mobile devices yet, and it remains to be seen how long that will take. It will happen, however. Facebook said as much when that was introduced. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land quotes Zuckerberg from the Home launch:
“When that’s available, hopefully we’ll be able to make that available here [in Home]. But even Graph Search, Graph Search is not web search. People still need Google or Bing of whatever they use for web search.”
Is Zuckerberg perhaps being cagey, holding back on a secret-uber plan to eventually have Graph Search take over on these devices. Perhaps. And I do think Graph Search is going to come. But really, the impression I got was that search has largely been overlooked with the launch of Home.
As Google faces the real risk of losing search market share little by little to numerous vertical services, it's possible that Graph Search will play a big factor in that. We discussed this more here.
Sullivan makes a good point in that same article in that Facebook Home makes users have to work harder to get to the search experiences on their devices. Just as users have to take an extra step to access their apps, they have to take an extra step to get to the search function (which could very well turn people off of the offering on its own).
Fortune goes so far as to call Android "Facebook's new weapon against Google" because of Facebook Home; the point being that Google wants you to live in Google's world and use Google's services when you're on an Android device, and Facebook Home puts you squarely in Facebook's world, distancing you more from Google's products even on its own operating system. It's a fair point, and it's really a similar (but more in your face) strategy to what Amazon is doing with its Kindle Fire devices, which use Amazon's version of Android and its own app store.
If Facebook is able to get a substantial amount of people using Facebook Home, even if only on Android, it might push Graph Search even further into users' search habits, especially if it's available on their devices in less steps than a Google search.
But search isn't the only Google service Facebook Home pushes to the background. As mentioned, it essentially pushes every other app on your phone to the background, but as Pocket Lint points out, it even eighty-sixes Android notifications, except for on the HTC First (another reason a lot of people might steer clear of Home).
There are real questions about whether or not people even want this kind of Facebook experience on their phones.
And of course, like with just about anything Facebook does, privacy is in the discussion. Even some of the most veteran of tech journalists are raising concerns.
Om Malik, for example, writes, "In fact, Facebook Home should put privacy advocates on alert, for this application erodes any idea of privacy. If you install this, then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action."
"The new Home app/UX/quasi-OS is deeply integrated into the Android environment," he continues. "It takes an effort to shut it down, because Home’s whole premise is to be always on and be the dashboard to your social world. It wants to be the start button for apps that are on your Android device, which in turn will give Facebook a deep insight on what is popular. And of course, it can build an app that mimics the functionality of that popular, fast-growing mobile app. I have seen it done before, both on other platforms and on Facebook."
"But there is a bigger worry," Malik adds. "The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time."
As some noted in response to Malik's points, Google already does this stuff.
Martin Bryant at TheNextWeb counters Malik's argument asking, "Is that really such a bad thing?" His point is essentially that targeted ads are better ads.
All in all, you have to really, really like Facebook to want to have Facebook Home dominating your phone. Luckily, there are a lot of people that really, really like Facebook. The social network has over a billion users. It's unclear how many of them love it to that extent. Home adoption could prove to be an interesting window into that kind of data.
Even without having access to it, it's clear that many view the offering as intrusive and an inconvenience to the rest of their phones' functionality. It's going to be quite interesting to see how the product evolves and whether or not users get on board.
What do you think of Facebook Home? Is this the future of how we're going to interact with Facebook? What are the bigger implications? Share your thoughts in the comments.