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Facebook Home REVIEW: A Full-On Facebook Invasion

by Brandon Russell | December 18, 2013December 18, 2013 12:12 pm PDT

Facebook Home Cover Feed

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want Facebook to be among a group of apps on your device; he wants it to be the only one. Instead of a traditional lock/home screen, Zuckerberg has created an experience that rewires how you and I use a phone. This isn’t about apps, or even about basic calling functionality. Home is about the people you care about most, all the time, everywhere. If you’re not a diehard Facebook user, Home is most definitely not for you.

What Facebook Home does is basically hide the traditional phone experience in favor of a full screen social networking onslaught. Rather than tapping through folders and consciously deciding to check your News Feed, Home is already there, big and beautiful, inescapable. No more widgets, clocks, calendars and any other concoction of Android features you’re used to. What you get is updates from friends and family, holding your phone hostage—that’s it.

It’s fresh, and daring and breathes new life into a social experience that’s slowly reaching its zenith. Home wants your addictive smartphone habits to focus solely on Facebook, putting calling, browsing, and everything else as secondary features—an important facet of Home. Close your eyes, imagine Mark Zuckerberg’s big blue face, and relinquish control of your device over to Facebook rule.

Facebook Home Status Update

What It’s Like

Home is about as simple as app experiences get. Enter your credentials, and you capitulate to Zuckerberg’s command. Your phone’s background is now your friend’s cover photo, or a picture of something they did while on vacation. The full screen, away from confusing settings and app grids and search bars. Now, your News Feed’s top posts are elegantly cleaned up into what’s known as the Cover Feed—only one story at a time, full screen, instead of a smattering of info all at once.

As a populace, we’ve developed an instinct to check our phones even when we don’t have notifications. Maybe it’s to check a website, or to stare at a map. With Facebook Home, Zuckerberg wants to capitalize on our addictive habits and put the social network front and center. It’s impressively (infuriatingly) clever, especially when you consider ads will one day be the first thing you see when you wake your phone up. It reminds me Amazon’s ad or ad-free products. But you have no choice.

Instead of confined spaces with friend requests and settings and menus in more menus, Home’s full screen ethos is a mesmerizing experience. Something that wasn’t so interesting before is suddenly, maybe, kind of cool now in its own Home sort of way—big and bright and unable to be ignored.

Facebook does hand over a smidgen of control through a tiny bubble profile picture that can be accessed when you’re inside the Cover Feed. Hold down on your own face, and you can hop into Apps, Messenger and the latest app you opened up, acting as a sort of convenient switcher.

Even though Home isn’t necessarily designed around apps, flicking your little profile bubble up will let you access a quick folder of the things you use most. It’s a familiar look, and almost acts as the traditional home screen—except for the fact that there’s an always present Status, Photo and Check-In widget at the top, reminding you that you’re under Facebook’s regime. Swipe left and you’ll see every single app on your phone in an alphabetical grid. Swipe back and you’ll just see your favorites, which you can drag and drop in the order you prefer.

Facebook Home Apps

As a phone experience, one we’ve gotten used to over the past several months, the fact that you need to take a few extra steps to access apps might be a pain, but that’s exactly the point of Facebook Home. It’s not about your phone per se, or anything in Google Play. You’re supposed to stay confined in Zuckerberg’s borders, your thoughts firmly focused on looking at the next status update. Phone functions are there, sure, but they’re buried. Know that going in, and embrace it. It probably won’t change.

Jumping into messenger brings up the familiar list menu of your ongoing and previous conversation, where both Facebook and SMS are treated equally. Once a new conversation begins—say you’re browsing the Web—a Chat Head will appear so you can converse straight from where you are. No jumping back into the Messenger application. Contacts are represented by little bubbles—exactly like the one you use to control your phone—which can be tapped on to reveal a conversation pane. Tap on your friend’s avatar bubble and the conversation pane will disappear.

What’s particularly great about Chat Heads is that they overlay onto everything on your phone, from anywhere. If you don’t like your friend’s face sitting at the top right corner you can reposition it anywhere you like on the screen for later, or just get rid of it altogether. It’s slightly distracting and campy, but very convenient, and allows you to see multiple conversations at once, right above any other app you’re in.

The idea is to make conversations more immediate and convenient. And it succeeds to a point. It’s awesome how they are a constant across any app in Android, but they can be a little disruptive, especially when your friend’s face is plastered on top of a Web page you’re looking at. Chat Heads are easily dismissed, however, so I wasn’t overly annoyed by them. And I could just as easily hop into the Messenger app and continue my conversations there (or long-press a conversation to open it into a Chat Head).

I’d like to see Facebook figure out how to implement Chat Heads into Home without having the icon bubbles on your screen. Perhaps the company can have a swipeable gesture to bring up a sort of Chat Heads hub so that you can still address conversations from any app, but not have your friends’s faces taking up real estate.

Facebook Home Quick Launcher

Facebook Home Is Not an OS

When you consider Facebook Home by itself, it’s hard to quantify the experience. We’ve all fallen in love with Android because of its features, but Facebook completely cuts those off in favor of shoving the social network into your brain. It’s an exploratory experience; Facebook didn’t create an OS—it didn’t need to—and instead took advantage of Android’s openness. This is about Facebook, and Facebook only. By doing this, Home is available to an unfathomably large user base, and transforms your digital life into something more beautiful, intimate.

It’s not often apps actually changes how we interact with a phone, which we still traditionally think of as something that can make calls and send texts. With so many distractions out there—apps, videos, to-do lists—Home focuses on one genuinely neat and straightforward experience. And it does so very well. Mark Zuckerberg said the focus was to put people first, not apps, and Home achieves this, almost to a fault.

If you’re someone who spends too much time on Facebook, and actively uses it daily, almost obsessively, Home is for you. If your device supports it, download it now, or get the HTC First on AT&T. There’s a disconnect when using the normal Facebook app on mobile, and Home completely changes this. It’s refreshing to see the noise of daily smartphone use taken out of the equation, and makes things more accessible for those who are merely looking for a barebones experience.

One really cool thing Home does add, rather than take away, to the experience is how notifications are handled. Similar to iOS, notifications are presented in a set of stacked cards right on your screen rather than hiding away in a drawer you have to swipe down. Each card shows a small preview, which you can then tap on to hop into that app. You can also swipe away individual notifications, long press to get rid of an entire stack or swipe them down so you can address them later.

Because I used Home on a One X+, I didn’t enjoy the added benefit of full Home integration. On the First, Home shows you all of your notifications—email, Instagram, Twitter, etc.—while the downloadable version only accesses SMS, Facebook Messenger and Facebook notifications. Down the road, hopefully we’ll see notifications equally for all devices Home is available for, because it’s handled very well.

Facebook Home Chat Heads

Your Phone is Still a Phone

People will complain Home makes accessing other apps more difficult, and that’s true. But that’s precisely how it’s meant to be. Home is designed to focus a user’s attention on what’s happening in the News Feed, and that’s essentially it. Home isn’t about calling people, or checking calendar alerts, or digging through alarms or checking the weather. The experience puts the people you care about most right on your phone, regardless of specs or manufacturer or build quality.

The amount of Android-ness Home strips away is a bit jarring at first, and it’s completely understandable for people to dislike this fact. If that’s the case, Home wasn’t meant for you in the first place. Really, don’t download it if an extra tap or two to open the phone app makes you angry. It’s actually not a big deal at all, but others will definitely disagree.

Widgets are gone, folders are gone, and pretty much every lovable aspect of Android is no longer at your fingertips. If you’re downloading Home, you’re agreeing to those terms knowing full well your phone will be all about Facebook and nothing else. Period. If not, there’s still the regular old Facebook app, and Messenger has Chat Heads, giving users the option to pluck the best feature of Home without the full screen News Feed.

facebook-home-photo

Wrap-Up

Facebook Home is an experience. It’s not any combination of build quality or manufacturer tricks. The company set out to seize control of your pocket, and it’s done that very well. Frequent updates are expected to come, so we’ll likely see an improved experience relatively soon. Maybe Zuckerberg will hand more control back to Android, maybe not.

Right now, Home wants you to look at your News Feed, and stay there all day, every day. It’s there when you wake up and there when you go to sleep. If that means making it more difficult to jump into your apps, then so be it. That’s what Zuckerberg wants. And even then, it’s no worse than having apps in a folder on your second or third home screen.

What’s most compelling about Home was that it made me, someone who doesn’t normally spend any amount of “productive” time using Facebook, an active user. Instead of simply dismissing status updates, I was interacting, liking, commenting, messaging. And every time I bring Home up one my One X+ I continue to do the same thing, like I’m compelled to do so.

If Home managed to turn me into an active user, it’ll surely do the same with other folks, too. And that’s what makes Home successful. In doing so, at no point did I care about apps, or calling someone, or widgets; it was all about the people on my home screen doing things and sharing things. And me constantly staring at the new Facebook order.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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