Facebook takes over Android with Home, AT&T to offer HTC 'First' Facebook phone

AT&T launching HTC First April 12 for $99
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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) introduced Home, an alternative homescreen for Android smartphones that promises users more immediate and efficient access to applications and social media, deeply integrating the social networking platform into the mobile user experience. HTC announced its "First" phone would have Home preloaded, and the phone will be sold through AT&T.

HTC First phone, with Facebook Home.

"We're going to turn your Android phone into a great, simple, social device," said Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, explaining the company set out to flip the script on the traditional mobile user experience paradigm, designing around people first and then focusing on app-enabled interactions, instead of vice versa.

According to Zuckerberg, Facebook Home, available for download April 12, is a "family of apps that becomes the home of your phone." All content and apps within Home are available when users launch their Android device: "There are no swipes or gestures--everything is already loaded on your phone while your device is sleeping," Zuckerberg said. "All the interactions are really smooth and natural. We wanted this to feel like system software, instead of just an app you run."

Key Home features include Cover Feed, essentially a home page presenting apps and media. "As soon as you turn on your phone, you see a visually-rich News Feed that automatically slides from story to story," explained Facebook Product Designer Adam Mosseri. Home also includes Notifications and Chat Heads, which offers similar functionality to the social network's standalone Facebook Messenger app. "Chat Heads work with both your Facebook messages and your SMS," Zuckerberg said.

Users can download Facebook Home by clicking an "Install" button integrated into the latest version of Facebook or Facebook Messenger for Android. Home will not launch on Android tablets, although Facebook promised to expand to those devices in the coming months.

Facebook Home will also arrive preloaded on the new HTC First smartphone, available from carriers including AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), launching April 12 for $99. Facebook also will support a partner program, confirming commitments from companies including Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Sony Mobile Communications, Huawei, Alcatel One Touch and Orange. However, it's unclear exactly what level of support Samsung, Huawei and other smartphone makers will provide to the effort.

While Facebook is first rolling out Home to Android, citing the openness of the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) platform, the firm did not specify when or if it will extend the concept to rival operating systems like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. When pressed on the topic by Wired, Zuckerberg said "We have a pretty good partnership with Apple, but they want to own the whole experience themselves," adding that "a lot of people love iPhones--I love mine, and I would like to be able to deliver Facebook Home there as well."

Facebook has no intention of building its own smartphone or operating system. "We don't want to build a phone or operating system that only some people will be able to use," Zuckerberg said. "We want to build the best experience for every person on every phone."

Informa Telecoms and Media Principal Analyst Malik Saadi doubts Facebook will ever go all-in with its own device. "Facebook is not yet ready for the mobile hardware game, but it needs to come up with a reference implementation to show its hardware partners how the next-generation mobile Facebook (which will be equipped with Graph Search Engine capabilities) should be deeply integrated with mobile hardware," Saadi said. "The risks are high for Facebook if it was to launch its own smartphone--and the risks could outweigh any benefits that it would gain."

But Facebook also must establish a stronger foothold within the mobile ecosystem said Analysys Mason Principal Analysts Ronan de Renesse and Stephen Sale, who argue the social network needs to be more "native" to nurture consumer engagement, noting that two-thirds of daily smartphone usage corresponds to pre-installed applications. Home tackles that challenge head-on.

"Although some new smartphone models come preloaded with the Facebook app, it is also important that the Facebook application is tailored for specific popular smartphone models to guarantee a superior quality of experience," de Renesse and Sale state. "Facebook could increase its app engagement (i.e. daily usage per user of the app) six-fold if it were to become the default communication platform for telephony, messaging and email."

For more:
- see this Facebook post
- see this Wired article 

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