Hands-On: Facebook Home
Facebook Home is a new user interface overlay for Android devices that "prioritizes people, not apps." Phone Scoop takes it for a spin.
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Facebook doesn't think its Android app does nearly enough when it comes to delivering the people in your life to your smartphone's home screen. Thus it developed Facebook Home, a new user interface overlay that replaces the home screen of select Android devices with Facebook's software.
Facebook was demonstrating Facebook Home on the HTC First, a new smartphone that will ship with FB Home preinstalled, and several other Android devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to hold the HTC First, nor shoot any video, so we'll have to make due with some photos of the screen.
Facebook Home prioritizes the user's newsfeed. It runs a continuous stream of newsfeed articles across the home screen. It comes across sort of like a live wallpaper. If the articles aren't updating quickly enough for you on the home screen, you can swipe the entire home screen panel left and right to see other updates/posts. If there's a post/update with which you want to interact, touch the contact or link that's at the top of the story, and it will take you to the main Facebook app where the newsfeed behaves as it does today.
Facebook Home is its own launcher. There's a little mugshot of the owner down at the bottom of the home screen. Press that, and you'll see three little options pop up: Apps, Messenger, and Back. These are pretty self explanatory.
The FB Home app tray is a separate app tray from what's available on the device itself. It can be fully customized, allowing the owner to add/delete any apps as they see fit. The FB Home app tray also always lets you post a photo or update your own status. There are three panels on the app tray: two are the actual, customizable FB Home screens, and the third is the host device's own app tray. You can drag apps from the device's app tray into the FB Home app tray and put them in any order you like.
The FB Home launcher also has something called Chat Heads. Chat Heads ties together Facebook Messenger and SMS to form a singular messaging user interface. With the feature enabled, it floats a little head on the home screen, which by default prioritizes that person's incoming messages. The little head stays on top of most of the apps (always along the left or right edge), with exceptions being the camera/video camera, and YouTube. When a message comes in, the head will light up with a notification. You can then access the conversation — no matter what app you're in — and when you're done filing a response, the conversation vanishes and you're back to what you were doing before. FB didn't say how many chat heads can be supported at any one time, but demonstrators showed us devices with at least four operating simultaneously. Chat Heads is an interesting approach to messaging, no doubt.
The Back function on the FB Home screen is a true "Back" button. It will take you back to whatever task you were doing before, no matter what type of app you may have been using before checking out the FB Home screen.
Facebook Home requires that both the main Facebook app and Facebook Messenger app be installed. What I thought was somewhat disappointing is that Facebook hasn't done anything yet to jazz up the main newsfeed beyond the home screen. For example, if I want to see more details about a photo I see floating across the FB Home screen, it takes me to the full Facebook app, not a new experience at all.
The one thing that FB Home does is it de-emphasizes almost every other app/service on the device. You have to take care to add the phone, SMS, contact, and other essential apps to the FB Home app tray if you want to be able to access them quickly. The standard Android notification bar is also gone, which means you're giving up that info in favor of FB's content. There's definitely some give and take.
The service will first be available to the HTC One, One X, and One X+, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S III, and S4.