In front of a crowded room of computers and media, Facebook finally showed off its new home on Android, simply dubbed Home. The experience, CEO Mark Zuckerberg persisted, is about putting people first, not apps. As a way to make staying connected feel more immediate and less burdensome—jumping in and out of Facebook, always hunting for red badge notifications—the social network showed off what the company's engineers feel is the "best quality experience for connecting with friends."
Facebook's vision for Home is to ultimately make communication through the social network more elegant, putting all the information you want right on your home screen. Without jumping into the app, your News Feed is brought to the surface so it's the first thing you look at. We check our phones constantly throughout the day, so it's a smart move on Facebook's part to bring a completely new experience right to the forefront. Better, notifications streaming in, such as Chat Heads, are integrated so you don't need to constantly hop between apps.
Sign in once and you're ready to go: no other downloads or configurations are required. When your phone is locked, everything will refresh in real-time so you're always up to date with friends and acquaintances. Facebook Home has a few distinct features that combine to bring you the best possible experience, right to your eyeballs, and makes actually communicating through the social network less of a chore, and much more fluid.
Rather than feeling like an app experience, confined by clear borders and major branding, Home changes the entire Facebook, and Android, interface. This isn't a "forked" version of Android, and it's not specifically about hardware and specs and big screens. Home transforms Facebook into a fullscreen experience, where Cover Feed lies in wait as soon as you wake it from sleep. Basically, this is where everything updates in real-time, completely replacing what you know now as your device's home screen. It's the same idea of HTC's BlinkFeed, but takes up the entire display.
You can swipe through everything that's happening on your News Feed as the updates come in. It's like a giant breaking news feed of status updates—every link shared, picture uploaded and whatever else it is your friends are up to. You can double-tap to like a photo, and also comment by tapping on the little conversation bubble. Cover Feed is the hub of it all, never fragmented by going into folders or settings to launch apps. And when Chat Heads come in, they're stacked very neatly right on your Cover Feed where you can address them or swipe them away.
Chat Heads, incidentally, are Facebook's way of integrating both SMS and Facebook Messenger into Home. Instead of actually requiring you to jump into a Messenger app, or SMS, Chat Heads pop up right over your Cover Feed as part of the UI. Tap on one and you'll see that individual conversation window (or group conversation), where you can reply or just read what was previously written. You can tap on a Chat Head again to collapse the window, and even move them around your screen if you want to. Chances are the people you talk to most are already on Facebook, so integrating chat so seamlessly into Home makes communicating easier.
Even though Home essentially takes over your entire home screen, you can still dig into apps on your phone. There's an app launcher over Cover Feed—represented by your profile picture—that lets you access and organize apps on your device, all without leaving Home itself. When you jump back out of that app, say Chrome, Cover Feed will be right back in your face, constantly streaming in friend updates.
Facebook clearly spent a lot of time not only ensuring the experience is constantly glued to your home screen, but creating something that's thoughtful and elegant. The social network sees a lot of use on mobile, and Zuckerberg explained the company wanted to bring the Home experience to that entire userbase, not just something like the HTC First, which will be out on April 12 through AT&T for $99.
Admittedly, the experience looks really nice, but that doesn't mean people want Facebook to take over the entire Android experience, always. "With Home available right out of the box, you're getting the best quality experience for connecting with your friends," Zuckerberg said. That may be the case, but that doesn't mean it'll make Facebook any more enjoyable. It might. We'll see once the Home is released on April 12 in the Google Play store for a handful of Android devices, along with the HTC First.