Facebook Stretches Out on Android’s Couch

Facebook on Thursday announced a family of Android-based smartphone apps called Facebook Home, which can be downloaded from Google Play.

“We’re going to talk about how you can transform your Android phone into a great social phone,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a company event. He added that the company doesn’t want to build “a phone or operating system that only some people are going to use.”

However, HTC did announce a Facebook phone at the end of the event.

Facebook Home will be available April 12 on the HTC One, HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III, S4 and Note II. Those phones run the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions of the Android operating system. The apps will be extended to tablets later, and possibly to iOS.

Facebook Home will be available on users’ smartphone home screens and will be loaded in the background while the device is sleeping. Users will see what Facebook calls a “Cover Feed” when they turn on their phones. This will include link shares, status updates and new photos, and users will be able to interact via swiping, tapping and pressing.

Facebook won’t fork Android, according to Cory Ondrejka, company vice president of engineering.

More About Facebook Home

Facebook Home users can double-tap to make a comment from their phone’s home screen. They can pull up apps from the phone’s lock screen by swiping from the bottom up.

“You look at your phone an average of 160 times a day, you have all your life on it and your personal stuff, so Facebook needs to be more than a simple app on the [Apple] App Store or Google Play,” Paul Amsellem, president of French mobile marketing company Mobile Network Group, told TechNewsWorld. “The user experience, messaging, live feed and, at the end, usage, is more important to [Facebook] than the competition is.”

The increased ease of chatting “is a good opportunity to target ads,” Andrew Eisner, chief gadgetologist at Gadgetology, told TechNewsWorld. “I often wonder how genuine [Facebook] Likes are, whether people like things to get something free or enter sweepstakes.”

Home will be updated monthly, Ondrejka said.

Getting the Message

Facebook Home users can message back and forth with their friends regardless of what app they’re in. A “chat head” — a tiny image of a user’s profile picture – will float up for each text message or Facebook message. Swiping up on the conversation returns the user to what he or she was doing previously.

Multiple conversations can be managed with a single tap. Users can engage in group chats. When they’re finished, they can grab and pick up the chat heads and flick them away.

The Impact of Facebook Home

Initially, Facebook Home won’t have ads, but “in many ways, it’s an extension of what it’s doing with ads — they have ads in Newsfeeds, and will eventually get ads in Cover Feed,” Danielle Levitas, a group vice president of research at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

Targeted marketing “would be the goal and they’ll refine this over the next 12 months,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Privacy might be a concern, Enderle told TechNewsWorld. Although Facebook Home “is designed to help [harvest more data better], making use of that data has been an issue for Facebook.”

At Last, a Facebook Phone

HTC and AT&T on Thursday announced the first Facebook phone, the HTC First.

Priced at $100, the HTC First will be available April 12 exclusively at AT&T and will operate on the carrier’s 4G LTE network.

It will be available in red, blue, white and black, and will be the only smartphone available with Facebook Home preloaded.

“I thought it was good news at first when Zuckerberg said they weren’t going to announce a phone, then HTC comes out with its phone,” Eisner said. “It seems the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”

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