While rumors ran rampant that Facebook would announce a Facebook phone at an event held at its Menlo Park headquarters today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg instead emphatically stated that "we're not building a phone, or an OS, we're building something a lot deeper than just an ordinary app." That 'something' is Facebook Home, a customized Android launcher optimized for Facebook usage.
"We wanted this to feel like system software, not just an app, to provide the smoothest experience available on Android" - Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg stated that the reason they're not building a phone is because they want to "deliver this experience to as many people as possible, so while a great phone might sell 10-20 million units, Facebook has more than a billion users." To bring that experience to everybody, they have created Facebook Home, a product that can help users turn their Android phone into a great social phone by creating an experience that is about "people, not apps."
"The homescreen is really the soul of your phone, you look at it about a hundred times a day" - Mark Zuckerberg.
Essentially Facebook Home is an Android launcher that replaces both your lockscreen and homescreen. With Home installed, as soon as you turn on the phone, you will see ‘Cover Feed’, a rich newsfeed with full-screen pictures taken from your Facebook newsfeed with small text descriptors at the top. The style is very reminiscent to Flipboard's layout, and users can swipe through images in a similar fashion.
Content from the Cover Feed can be commented on by tapping and holding the screen, or 'Liked' by double-tapping the screen.
Zuckerberg stated that the great thing about Cover Feed is that you can just look down at your phone and you can see what's going on - since it's both lockscreen and homescreen, no swipes or gestures are required to access your content.
One of the interesting quirks of Cover Feed is the little icon of your face in the lower-middle part of the screen (this is replicated in the Chat Head feature - see below). This icon functions as a launcher: pressing it will bring up three icons. Swiping left will launch Home's messenger service, swiping up will bring up the Apps drawer, and swiping right will re-launch the last app you used.
"Phones are communication devices, and we spend all day long messaging" - Mark Zuckerberg.
Chat Heads is Facebook's attempt to make messaging more personalized. When you receive a message, a little icon of your friend - his 'Chat Head' - will pop up in the top right corner of the app or content that you’re viewing.The Chat Head will display a preview of the message received as well as an unread count of messages.
You can swipe the Chat Head away to ignore it or tap on it to bring the conversation into the foreground.
Chat Heads also supports group messaging and works with both SMSes and Facebook Chat messages. Similar to Apple's iMessage, Facebook messages are displayed in Blue, while SMSes are color-coded green.
Zuckerberg stated that Facebook Home will be updated every month and more content will be added. Zuckerberg mentioned Video as one key missing feature right now, but content like Tumblr or Instagram feeds are also possibilities. At launch Facebook Home will not support folder or widgets, however, this may change in future.
Zuckerberg also confirmed that, while they're not in at launch, you will see Ads on your Cover Feed in the future.
Facebook Home will be available for all Android smartphones running at least Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher, on 12th April from the Google Play Store.
Zuckerberg also mentioned that they're working on Tablet functionality, however it may still be a few months away.
Facebook has also created the Facebook Home Program to allow a handset makers to optimize the Facebook Home experience. Current partners include HTC, Samsung, Sony and others:
As it turns out, those rumors of an HTC Facebook Phone weren't entirely untrue. The first smartphone to be pre-loaded and optimized for Facebook Home will be the appropriately named HTC First. This is the phone that was previously leaked and speculated to be the 'Facebook Phone'. The HTC First's operating system will include extra Facebook experiences like notifications for email and calendars on the Cover Feed, on top of the existing Facebook Home experience.
Full hardware specifications are not available right now, but we know it will have a 4.3-inch, 1280 x 720p resolution, Super LCD 3 display, and be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM, a 5MP rear camera, and a 1.6MP front camera. This makes it a mid-range entry, somewhat similar to Sony's Xperia V or HTC's One SV.
The phone itself will be available in four colors: red, light blue, white and black.
The HTC First will be available in the US on 12th April for US$99.99. Local availability and pricing is not known yet.