There have long been rumors about an impending “Facebook Phone.” This has always struck me as a little odd. The smartphone market is already crowded; devices and operating systems aren't Facebook's core competency, and it would need to move well out of its usual comfort zone to actually make it work.
These rumors, however, were persistent, and came from fairly credible sources. Even so, companies kick ideas around all the time. Mobile is a big market, and the existing Facebook apps are prone to long load times and a less than stellar experience, compared to the full page.
Well, it turns out I was right…and wrong. In retrospect, everyone who was talking about the Facebook Phone should have seen what was actually coming.
Facebook has come Home. To the homescreen on your phone, that is. It has released a new app called “Facebook Home” that transforms the homescreen and lock screen of your Android phone with a Facebook feed and a launch screen for apps and other programs. This app will initially be available for the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, Note 2, and HTC One, One X, and HTC First devices – starting now.
Calling it an app is selling it a bit short – it's actually more of a total “re-skin” that puts status updates, likes, and posts front and center. It's not the usual, relatively conservative Facebook fare, either, but a more modern, photo-and-graphic-centric design that is touch-optimized and quite a bit more beautiful than the current Facebook app.
Facebook has also totally redesigned the Facebook Messenger app, and now under Facebook Home, conversations with people using either text or Facebook chat will be visible no matter what you happen to be doing on your device. The company is calling this feature “Chat Heads,” which is a nomenclature nonstarter as far as I'm concerned, but hey, it's their app, so they can call it what they want, I guess.
Many novice Android users have complained about the relative complexity of navigating Android's apps, widgets, and folders. Facebook Home's app launcher removes that onerous problem, simplifying how apps are presented to users into a basic grid. I personally favor Android's native app launcher, because even though it's more complex, it's also more functional – but I've heard the complaint often enough, from enough different people, to recognize that I may be in the minority there.
Facebook is basically aiming to make devices running Facebook Home more “people-centric” than “app-centric,” and by developing a totally new, immersive interface that is stuffed to the gills with Facebook functionality. Available from the two top-tier manufacturers of Android phones, Facebook is basically ensuring that anytime you use your phone at all, you're using a Facebook app. These are smart people, no question about it.
For more information about Facebook Home, visit facebook.com/home. To download Facebook Home, visit the Google Play store and search for “Facebook Home” under apps.
-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. Email him at email@example.com.