Facebook Home App

Facebook Home AppFacebook’s new Home can be classified neither as an Application nor as a full-fledged mobile operating system, writes Karthik Subramanian

Facebook has unveiled its new ‘Home’ on Android, and it is neither a full-fledged mobile operating system nor just another App. It is more like a ‘skin’ that handset manufacturers slap on top of the core Android mobile operating system.

To explain that roughly, Facebook Home would ‘Facebookise’ any Android mobile that you use it on, making some features “always on”.

Think of it as an additional layer on your phone that keeps ‘Facebook’ and its features — like notifications and chat alerts — active all the time.

To me, that sounds pretty disruptive to what one can do with their smartphone, but there is a young generation of smartphone users who simply cannot live without Facebooking every moment of their lives.

At the launch event last week in Menlo Park, San Francisco, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in his typical edgy style, introduced Facebook Home as a new experience that “puts people and not Apps” as the centre of the smartphone experience. (The entire video is available on Live Stream website).

An App download

The ‘Facebook Home’ experience will be available as an App download on the Google Play store starting April 12, but in its roll-out, it will be available only to select flagship phones — HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung GALAXY S III and Samsung GALAXY Note II. Facebook has promised to bring it to other leading devices soon.

And it is most unlikely to come to the Apple iPhone because iOS does not allow the kind of tweaking that Android does.

At the launch event, HTC’s CEO Peter Chou introduced the HTC First phone which will come pre-loaded with the Facebook Home experience. HTC has been a long-time collaborator with Facebook; its HTC Cha Cha phone had a dedicated Facebook button. The HTC First, with Facebook Home out of box, will launch in the U.S. on April 12.

Android users who run their smartphones on ‘Facebook Home’ will get a slightly embellished user-interface starting with the lockscreen. Facebook Home has a ‘coverfeed’ feature which will pull out photos from one’s Facebook Friends’ List and keep them moving across the lockscreen.

Windows 8 phone users can already experience this on their phones, where the Facebook App allows them to pick photos from their Facebook Albums to keep their lockscreens always active.

Another embellishment Facebook Home will bring is ‘chat heads’ (see photo). What this will do is allow your contacts — both via SMS and via Facebook chat — to ping you in the middle of anything you are doing on your phone. You might be working on any App, but once someone pings you the ‘chathead’ would pop up with a message, even while you are within an App.

Though this sounds interesting, some of us might go ‘yikes, that is obtrusive’ but then there is a generation of young smartphone users who might just dig that.

The big concern, however, about the concept is privacy. Just how much more data is Facebook going to mine with Android phones running Facebook Home?

As an immediate aftermath of the launch, the Facebook Home team has put out a basic Q&A to address some prominent queries. You can read it at http://newsroom.fb.com/News/599/Answering-Your-Questions-on-Home-and-Privacy.

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