Earlier, we covered the launch of Facebook “Home,” the company’s homescreen strategy for Android devices (also see live blog). As expected, Facebook also introduced a branded phone, the HTC “First.” The First is available in the US exclusively from AT&T for $99 (locked and with a contract).
There are lots of interesting implications from the announcement today that we’ll explore in other stories in the coming days. However, in this post, I’ll go through some of the basic features of Cover Feed and Chat Heads, as well as how Home affects the general Android handset experience.
What Is Cover Feed?
Cover Feed is a new feed (not identical with the News Feed) that includes content from the News Feed and third party apps (e.g., Instagram, Foursquare). The feed is biased toward image-rich updates and posts.
Facebook said it was redesigning the smartphone experience around people rather than tasks or apps. And, Cover Feed is a primary expression of that idea. Cover Feed is dynamic and will change often to reflect the most recent images and updates from friends and other sources you’re connected to.
You now cannot select a single image (picture of your dog, kids or significant other) for your lock screen or home screen. Cover Feed becomes both the lock screen and home screen.
Notifications and Chat Heads
The home or lock screens will show notifications from Facebook friends (i.e., comments), text messages (from SMS and Messenger), missed calls and email. You can tap to open and respond right then and there. You can also swipe them away and respond later.
Chat Heads is Home’s messaging functionality. When you receive an SMS or Facebook Message, an image of the sender’s face appears on the home screen. It can be tapped and addressed immediately or removed. Group chats show multiple faces and so on.
Chat Heads is persistent and sits on top of all your apps. So when you’re in an app (say the New York Times) a Chat Head will appear with an incoming message. You can respond and not leave the app.
Chat Heads can also be manipulated and placed in different locations on the screen. It’s a pretty compelling feature of the experience.
Accessing Android Apps
To get to traditional Android apps, you invoke the app launcher or app drawer. App launcher is a screen of app favorites or bookmarks, if you will. The rest of your apps are in the app drawer as with a conventional Android experience. In addition, Home will show and give you the option to re-launch the last app used.
The app drawer looks like regular Android, with a grid of apps. You can also install Android widgets on an alternative “home screen” but not on the Facebook Home screen.
In order to get to the Google search box, which otherwise would have been on the Android home screen, you have to go into the app launcher/drawer or into a browser. You can also still access Google Now, but getting there is a two-step process, no longer a simple swipe from the home screen.
Facebook Home Vs. Facebook’s App
One curious thing about Facebook Home is that only selected features of the Facebook app have been included. To get access to the full range of Facebook app capabilities, you need to launch the Facebook app itself. Home and the Facebook App are linked for certain actions; tapping on notifications, for example, will launch the Facebook app.
One logical thing for Facebook to “elevate” to Home would be Nearby/Local Search (and later, Graph Search when it comes to mobile). However, Facebook Local Search is currently available only through the Facebook app. Over time, I would expect more Facebook app features in general to make it into Home.
Indeed, Facebook said that it would do an update/release each month. Some elements of the app can be pushed live without requiring a new download. But, Android apps can also be updated in the background if the user has authorized that.
Availability Of Home
The HTC First, which Facebook suggested would have a longer battery life than other Android handsets, will be available in the US on April 12th from AT&T. The Facebook Home app download will be simultaneously in Google Play on the same day.
Home isn’t compatible with all Android phones. It will only work with Android “Ice Cream Sandwich” and “Jelly Bean” handsets. Beyond this, the following phones were explicitly called out by Facebook as compatible devices:
- HTC One
- HTC One X
- Samsung GALAXY S 3
- Galaxy Note 2
- Samsung GALAXY S4
More Facebook Home Coverage
- Facebook Launches ‘Home’ – A New Android Home Screen Experience
- Facebook Home Cover Feed Won’t Have Ads, Yet
- While “Facebook Home” Keeps Google, Search Is Harder To Reach
- Live Blog: The Facebook Android “Home” Phone Event