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Facebook Home: A Social Smartphone Makeover

A modified version of Android puts social networking, and Facebook, at the heart of a device.
April 4, 2013

MIT Technology Review editor Rachel Metz live-blogged Facebook’s announcement from its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Read her blow-by-blow account of the event below.

screen shot of chat on smartphone

2:07 p.m.: Now the wall to my is slowly rolling away to reveal a demo lounge. I’m going to try it out. See you later!

1:59 p.m.: Here’s a list of Android devices that will be compatible with Facebook Home: The HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, and the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Also the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 when those are available. Zuckerberg adds that yes, eventually, there will be ads in the cover feed shown on the homepage.

1:57 p.m.: Someone asks if Facebook Home willcome to iOS. We have a great relationship with apple, is Zuckerberg’s answer. He says Facebook is integrated into iOS, but ultimately whatever happens with Apple happens in partnership with them. Google is aware of what Facebook is doing with Home, but they don’t need to be involved because of how Android is designed. And Windows is somewhere in between. So, in other words, wait and see.

1:56 p.m.: Another good question from the crowd: will Facebook be collecting more data about what we’re doing on our phones? Zuckerberg says they collect analytics, but only from a small percentage of the user base, which shifts all the time to different people, and it’s all anonymized.

1:54 p.m: Here’s a good question: someone asks Zuckerberg to address the growing perception that teenagers are turning away from Facebook. Zuckerberg says overall engagement see is quite good and they’re quite happy with it. He notes that the average person goes into Facebook on a phone 10 times a day and looks at their lock screen a hundred times a day. With Home, he suggests, people will be be consuming more content from Facebook and its partners.

1:47 p.m: Okay, thanks Ralph. Now Mark is back. He says he’s excited to see it running here, and in Europe soon. Mark reminds us we’ll soon live in a world where most people who have a smartphone will never have seen what you and I think of as a computer. For most of the world, what a computer is, or should be, hasn’t been decided, he says. Whatever it is, he thinks it will put people first. Well, he would say that. And, that’s a wrap for the presentation.

1:44 p.m: Chou is followed by Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility. Ralph chats up the device, saying how simple, elegant, social it is. “I’ve used a lot of phones,” he says, and this is the most immersive experience he’s seen. It will work on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. (I do believe he has used a lot of phones by the way.) He bets we want to know when it is coming out. We do! It will be available on April 12 for $100.

1:42 p.m.: Peter Chou, CEO of HTC is on stage now. He says HTC has been working on this for a long time and he introduces the HTC first, which is an unremarkable-looking black slab of a smartphone, but interesting because it has Home built onto it from the start. He calls it the “ultimate social phone.” Ah, and it will come in four colors, which are actually kind of nice: bright red, aqua, white, and black. It will run on AT&T’s network.

1:40 p.m.: Okay, back to Zuckerberg, who is going to wrap it up. “We think that this is the best version of Facebook there is,” he says. I’m guessing we’ll have a Q&A session now? Oh wait, no. We’re watching a “fun, little video” they made. I’m pretty sure Zuck is wearing the same James Perse hoodie he wore at the last event, by the way. This video shows some guy on an airplane checking his phone (presumably before takeoff), and the experience with Facebook Home is so immersive that it’s like all his friends are there with him. And his friend’s cats. Yes, cats. Cute, Facebook. Zuckerberg says they’ll support a few devices at first, and Home will be available on April 12. They also created the Facebook Home program for developers. HTC, Samsung, AT&T, and Sony have already signed up to make experiences with Home, Zuckerberg says. AT&T and HTC have built the first phone that includes it.

1:38 p.m.: Okay, now Cory Ondrejka, VP of engineering, is taking the stage. He says the super-app will be available in the Google Play store. When you launch it initially, it will give you a choice between Facebok Home and the regular Android Launcher. Cory says it isn’t launching for Android tablets just yet, says, but they plan to make that version available a few months after launch. Home will release every month with an update, he says, like Facebook’s other mobile apps. Pretty ambitious, I’d say. Cory also reminds us that Facebook is heads-down focused on being mobile first. They re-wrote core components, wrote a new UI layer based on physics to make gestures feel more “physical and real,” he says.

1:35 p.m.: Joey Flynn, product designer, starts talk to us about messaging on our phones today. He has very cool mutton chops, by the way. Nice facial hair, Joey! He says messaging and communication shouldn’t just happen in certain places on your phone. That’s why Facebook’s chat heads let you talk to anyone from anywhere on your device. You can keep your little chat-head friend with you as you move from app to app, which is really cool.

1:33 p.m.: There is still an app launcher though. You press and hold a face icon to see icons for apps. And you swipe upwards then to see the app launcher. This is pretty simple Android-style app organization.

1:29 p.m.: Zucerkberg hands off to Adam Mosseri, director of product. It’s time for the live demo! Moserri admits these can be risky, so he hopes we’ll be patient with any hiccups. Not a chance, Adam. We’re starting with “cover feed” As soon as you turn on your phone, you see cover feed. It includes your picture at the bottom, and it automatically shows status updates from your Facebook friends. If you see a photo you like, you can long-press to zoom out, or double tap it to like it. “What we’ve tried to do is design a delightful, simple experience,” he says. If you have several notifications, you can press and hold and they’ll collect into one bunch.

1:26 p.m.: Now we go to messaging. “We all want to talk to people, not apps,” Zuckerberg says. You can tap on a friend’s face icon to start a conversation with them. They’re called “chat heads” apparently. Very clever, since they are heads with which you can chat. Oh, you can move them around and stack them if you have multiple friends you are chatting with. That’s actually pretty neat. And it works with Facebook messaging and SMS.

1:23 p.m.: We see Home on device: a bunch of really bright images fills the screen showing friends, status updates, etc. “With Home, you see your world through people, not apps,” Zuckerberg says. Home is also the lock screen, so you don’t have to unlock to see content. It seems you can double tap on the home screen to post a comment to Facebook. “We wanted this to feel like system software, and not just an app that you run, and we feel like there’s a higher quality bar for that,” Zuckerberg says. If you get a notification from a friend, it will include that person’s face and name, and then you can tap on it to interact with them, or swipe it away for the time being. You can also pull them all to the bottom of the screen to deal with later if you have several notifications.

1:20 p.m.: Ah, here’s what we were waiting for. They’re making something that is not exactly a phone, not an OS, but way deeper than any app, according to Zuckerberg. You don’t need to fork Android or really modify the OS to do such things, he says, and the home screen of your phone “should be deeply personal”. This new experience for your phone is a family of apps called “Home” that you can install to change the experience you have on your Android device. He’s showing it now on screens behind him. Interesting stuff.

1:17 p.m.: Before Newsfeed on Facebook, Zuck says, we all navigated through a list of “apps” on Facebook. We’d click on messages, or photos, to see things. Now the home screen feels like a home and it’s a better way to consume content, he says. Now Facebook wants to bring this experience to the phone, and bring it to as many people as possible. I’ll bet they do. “We want to build the best experience for every person on every phone,” he says. Well, okay. People spend three times as much time on Facebook than on any other app, apparently. Zuckerberg adds that plenty of top apps are already connected to Facebook, too.

1:12 p.m: Zuckerberg continues: Often you have a few minutes between meetings and you pull out your phone to see what content is happening. That isn’t performing a task, but wanting to stay connected in your world; that’s being human. Why do we need to go into apps to see what’s going on, he wonders. “We want to flip that around,” he says, and bring people to the foreground.

1:09 p.m.: “What would it feel like if our phones were designed around people, not apps?” Zuckerberg asks. For years, he notes, computers have been designed around applications: you would use one when you had a task to perform, and then leave it. And even though we use computers constantly, the user-interface model is largely the same. But we’re seeing a new important use case, he says. We have phones on us all the time and we want to know what’s going on around us.

1:06 p.m.: “Today we’re finally going to talk about that Facebook phone. Or, more accurately, we’re going to talk about how you can turn your android phone into a great simple, social device,” Zuckerberg says. At Facebook, he says, their mission is to give people the power to share, and make their world more open and connected. You knew this already, presumably. It’s no surprise we spend so much time using social tools, he says. We spend 20 percent of our time on our phones, on average, using Facebook–25 percent if you include Instagram.

1:02 p.m.: The lights have dimmed! The crowd is buzzing! The music is again swelling! Except now it’s not. Okay, show me the Zuckerberg! We’re all waiting here, not really sure what’s happening yet. I think we’re listening to Mumford and Sons. Oh, here he is. Mark just arrived.

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