Facebook's throwing its hat in the Android ring in a big, big way. Today at an event at the company's campus in California, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Home, a deep software integration with Android that puts Facebook services front and center. Zuckerberg left the HTC First announcement to HTC's Peter Chou, spending more time mentioning ways you could turn your Android phone into something much more social. We spend as much as 25 percent of our time on our phone using Facebook and Instagram, he said, so why not design a phone around "people, not apps?"
"We want to build the best experience for every person, on every phone"
Home is a family of Facebook apps that overhauls your entire device, turning it into a Facebook phone. An app called Coverfeed overhauls the homescreen and the lockscreen, giving you updates on what your friends are doing without you having to launch an app, or even unlock your phone — and you'll get ads in all the same places. You can comment or like posts from your homescreen — it feels incredibly native. Everything is full-screen and incredibly visual, really looking nothing like Android.
Messaging is one of the key features of Facebook Home – Zuckerberg made no bones about believing the way we currently message is broken. Messaging on Facebook Home is everywhere — you'll see a round icon with the face of whoever you're talking to, called "Chat heads," over top of any app you're using. Just tap your friend's face, and up comes your chat window. It looks a little ridiculous, and you're going to spend a lot of time poking people in the face, but it's a much more integrated chat solution than we've ever seen on Android. It works with SMS and Facebook messaging, but Chat heads try to obscure which you're actually using — it's all about who you're chatting with, not what service you're using to do so.
The whole setup is very gesture-based, allowing to to switch between apps and notifications pretty quickly. The new launcher shows your favorite apps in one screen, and the full app drawer on the other, plus offers a quick way to post a photo or a status update. Much of the overhaul is about making all of Facebook's services not only easy to see, but easy to add to from anywhere on your phone.
"There's no chrome, no nav — it's about the content first"
There are badges and notifications on every app that let you know when something new is happening, when someone is communicating with you. Notifications are sorted by friend, rather than app — it says when your friend is doing something, rather than letting you know that an app has something new for you. Instead of navigating through a list of apps, opening Photos to see photos and Calendar to see your events, Facebook wants to make your phone a lot more like your News Feed.
Zuckerberg spent a lot of time talking about how open Android is, and how it allowed Facebook to change a lot about the OS without a lot of work. "You don't need to fork Android" to do what Facebook is doing, he said. And for Facebook, it all starts with the homescreen, which Zuckerberg said we look at 100 times a day.
"It's not just mobile first, but mobile best"
We're hearing Home will be available beginning April 12th, but only in a limited capacity — it will initially be available on the HTC One and One X, and the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note II. It'll be rolling out broadly, but not at first. It can be installed from the Play Store, and if you have Facebook installed on your phone it will automatically prompt you to download the app. It's coming to a "wide range of devices," including tablets, though it won't come to larger screens for several months. The company promised to redesign every month, bringing new features and new device support.