Facebook Home – the Not-Quite Facebook Phone

For months now, the Facebook rumors and speculation have been flying:

  • “Facebook is thinking about launching a phone.”
  • “Facebook is going to launch a phone.”
  • “What will the Facebook phone look like?” 
  • “Will the Facebook phone be a Google killer or an Apple killer?” 
  • “When will Facebook finally unveil its phone?” 

New Facebook Home for Android smartphonesWell, the when question has been answered. But what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled last Thursday wasn’t exactly the long-rumored and now-expected Facebook Phone. But neither was it just another Facebook mobile phone app. It’s really something in the middle. Something called Facebook Home.

Facebook Home is a kind of super-app that takes over your Android phone’s home and lock screens and fills them with live updates from your Facebook account with a feature called Cover Feed.

With Facebook Home, you’ll not only be able to see your Facebook news feed, including full-screen photos, but you’ll also be able to Like things, comment on posts, or initiate Facebook Messenger Chats. New messages, by the way, will pop up a round icon showing your friend’s face. It’s a new feature called “Chat Heads” that will allow you to chat even while using other phone features.

As Facebook describes it, Home is “the family of apps that puts your friends at the heart of your phone.” Visit the official Facebook Home page for their overview and highlights. There’s also a brief FAQ that covers the basics of using Facebook Home.

But what about some more objective opinions?

Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg wrote that he “found Facebook Home easy to use, elegantly designed and addictive,” noting that it prompted him to interact with Facebook more than ever. For big Facebook fans, he added, this could be “a big win.”

The New York Times’ David Pogue had a more mixed response, mostly noting the tradeoffs Home users will have to make (loss of easy access to other apps) and some “confusing” aspects of the user interface. In summary, he wrote “everything in Home is attractive, smooth and quick. At the same time, there’s something vaguely incoherent about the whole operation.”

On Mashable, Lance Ulanoff writes that he found the scrolling Cover Feed “undeniably compelling” and that Facebook Home may “suck you back in” if you’ve been drifting away from Facebook. He said in just 36 hours, it prompted him to spend “more time on Facebook than I  have in the past three months.” But, he reminds us that the Cover Feed is expected to get ads at some point in the near future, a feature that “may annoy some people.”

Facebook Home is scheduled to be available tomorrow, April 12, as a free download from the Google Play store on these four Android phones:

  • Samsung Galaxy S III
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
  • HTC One X
  • HTC One X+

Other Android phones will follow. No iPhone, however. Apple’s iOS doesn’t allow the same kind of Home screen takeover that Google’s Android OS does.

And speaking of phones, there is one new phone that’s being called, informally at leaset, the Facebook Phone. It’s the HTC First — as in the first phone to have Facebook Home preinstalled, which Facebook claims is “the best Home experience possible.”

Reviews of the HTC First and its Facebook Home integration were mixed. TechCrunch called the new phone “an impressive first try” and did a nice round-up of other HTC First and Facebook Home reviews.

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