Facebook announced its big plan for mobile today, called Facebook Home. Despite speculation that it would be a Facebook phone or a Facebook operating system, it’s more like a super app with “deep integration” into Android phones.
It’s basically Facebook’s status stream brought to your phone’s home screen. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it, it’s about switching smart phones’ current emphasis on apps to one on people. Facebook will be your phone’s wallpaper, background, and home screen, which they’re calling “cover feed.”
There’s an app launcher on the bottom of the screen so you can get to your other apps, but make no mistake about it: Facebook wants to be the focus of your phone. No matter what app you’re using, you’ll always be able to post to Facebook or chat with people.
“Chat heads,” little icons of your friends’ Facebook profile pictures, come up in apps, so you can send messages all the time. Facebook designers stressed that in phones today, you have to completely abandon an app to check your messages; it’s an either/or choice. “You should really be able to talk to your friends no matter what app you’re using,” one designer said. But with Home, he said “It really feels like your friends are always there.”
The design struck us as sort of annoying: it’s hard to ignore chat heads when they come up. The design also makes it hard to tell Facebook messages apart from text messages; both share the chat head design.
Facebook’s speakers emphasized how open the Android platform was for development. Zuckerberg made a thinly-veiled reference to Apple’s notoriously closed iOS system: “Because of Google’s commitment to openness, you can have experiences on Android that you can’t have on other platforms.” One of those experiences is building an entirely new UI layer based on physics so that swipes and other motions “feel natural.” Zuckerberg noted in the question and answer session that Facebook couldn’t do that with Apple unless they’re in an approved partnership.
A reporter at the launch asked the big privacy question: since Facebook is integrated into the phone, will the company be collecting more data about users? After all, data is Facebook’s lifeblood: 85% of the company’s revenue comes from advertising. Zuckerberg said that “analytics only feed back into the device and software usability, not to Facebook’s data stores.” If the past is any indication, Facebook’s looking to know as much as it can about its users–and monetize it.
Update: A few other experts have weighed in on the privacy issues with Facebook Home since we wrote this post. In an article titled “Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy,” Om Malik said, “Facebook is going to use all this data — not to improve our lives — but to target better marketing and advertising messages at us.” Agreeing on the privacy risks, Ovum analyst Jan Dawson wrote that “Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict. Users don’t want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both.”
Facebook Home is available April 12 on Android phones through the Google Play store and on tablets within a few months. There will be an update release every month. HTC and AT&T have the first Home-enabled phone, which is called, appropriately, “HTC First.” It’ll be $99.99 at AT&T, which serves as a good reminder that things come cheap when you pay for them with your data.
Zuckerberg said he thinks “this is the best version of Facebook there is.” What do you think? If you’re a current Facebook user, do you want even more Facebook in your face when you’re on your phone, or are you content to let it stay as just an app?