Facebook needed a mobile strategy. Now it has one. Mark Zuckerberg and company just revealed Facebook Home, an app launcher (home screen) replacement that will run on select Android phones. The social network also announced Home’s flagship phone, the Facebook-branded HTC First.
Just a launcher
First, a quick primer on what Facebook Home isn’t. It isn’t a forked version of Android (a la Amazon) with its own app store and services. It also isn’t a custom skin, like Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense. Facebook Home doesn’t conflict with Google’s suite of apps (Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc.), and it isn’t designed for a singular “Facebook phone” with dreams of being an iPhone or Galaxy killer.
No, Facebook Home is merely a launcher replacement. It’s more a competitor to Nova Launcher, ADW, or Go Launcher EX than it is to TouchWiz, Sense, or the iPhone. I doubt the majority of Android phone owners have heard of these apps – or even realize that you can switch your launcher. Facebook wants to change that.
Facebook Home is an app-launching home screen ... albeit one that clobbers you over the head with content from the social network.
All Facebook, all the timeAfter installing Facebook Home, your old home screen is put on the shelf. No more grids of app icons, weather widgets, and live wallpapers. Now your home screen and lockscreen greet you with a very image-centric version of your Facebook feed.
Facebook Home's primary feature is called Cover Feed. Present on both home screen and lock screen, it's a continuous flow of images and updates from your Facebook feed. It looks a lot like Flipboard ... a bizarre version of Flipboard that only shows content from Facebook.
Home also has a heavy focus on messaging and, er, faces. Need to see your apps? Slide your own face across the screen. Yeah, weird. In the middle of Angry Birds while simultaneously chatting with your favorite bro? His face will float on top of the game, ready for messaging. CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls this feature “Chat Heads.” Interesting branding there, Zuck.
The biggest advantage of making Facebook Home a launcher replacement (and not a UX skin like TouchWiz) is that you won't have to buy a "Facebook phone" to install it. Starting on April 12, owners of the following phones will be able to snag it – as a free download – in the Google Play Store:
If Facebook Home is popular, we can likely expect to see that list grow in the future. Home will eventually come to tablets (later this year), but will be phone-only at launch.
If you're a really big Facebook fan – and are based in the U.S. – you'll be able to snag an AT&T exclusive, the HTC First.
The First is the only phone to ship with Facebook Home front-and-center by default. You can install Facebook Home on other Android phones, but maybe AT&T will sell some extra phones to customers who don't realize that.
Otherwise, the HTC First looks like a mid-range (but attractively designed) handset. It has a dual-core Snapdragon processor and a 4.3-inch display. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and rides on AT&T's speedy LTE network.
The First will be available (for US$99) on the same day as Facebook Home: April 12.