Facebook’s new “Home” on Android will debut on a mediocre HTC handset codenamed “Myst” but will be available on standard Android phones, according to an autopsy of a leaked developer build of the Facebook “phone” software scored by Android Police. This aligns with our scoop and predictions from last week about what Facebook will launch at its big press event on Thursday.
Building a slightly modified Android operating system for an HTC handset would give Facebook the freedom to customize its user experience in ways iOS and stock Android won’t allow. This includes a highly personalized homescreen that pipes in Facebook news feed content and notifications, but also has deep Facebook functionality built in elsewhere.
However, there may be a limited market for a phone that’s totally focused on Facebook. So, as I wrote last Thursday, Facebook is likely to release a more basic version of its HTC homescreen experience as a homescreen launcher replacement standalone app that’s compatible with the unmodified Android OS — the most popular mobile smartphone operating system in the world. This would give Facebook’s hard work a much wider audience than if its homescreen was shackled to HTC.
Ron Amadeo of Android Police’s impressive find of this Facebook phone application package file (APK) confirms all of this with new details.
Facebook Phone Hardware
There’s always the potential this device could have just been a tester and something better could be debuted Thursday. But the handset build.prop file from the APK says Facebook’s new software is meant to run on:
Model: MYSTUL (Myst_UL)
Platform: MSM8960 (Dual Core)
Display: 4.3 inch @ 720p resolution
Android Version: 4.1.2
Sense Version: 4.5
Rear Camera = 5M
Front Camera = 1.6M
No SD Card
These specs mesh with what Unwired View reported the Facebook-HTC device would have, and they point to a handset very similar to the HTC Sense 4.5. There’s also the potential this could run on other carriers beyond AT&T.
“Facebook Home” Software
As for the software, it includes a logo titling it “Facebook Home” just as we wrote last week. Special features that the software has Android permissions for include the ability to:
- Spawn windows that stay on top of all other windows
- Turn off the lock screen
- Activate as soon as your phone starts
- Monitor what other apps are currently running
- Control the phone’s Wi-Fi connection
- Change the system settings
In the layout XML and image files are indications that Facebook Home will let you view Facebook news feed stories, a more standard clock screen, shortcuts for launching apps, and search via Google.
One of the most fascinating features is referred to as “Chat Heads” in the APK, and comes with the ability to “pop out chat head.” It appears to let Facebook Chat conversations float above the currently viewed screen and remain visible even while you use other apps. Think how certain websites let you activate a music player that stays persistently visible and doesn’t pause a song as you browse between different webpages. This could be similar but for mobile chat. The Chat Heads feature could be one that only runs on Facebook’s modified Android OS.
“Home” For Any Android
Possibly the most important thing Android Police discovered is that the Facebook Home software comes ready to read the settings of the launcher for the stock Android operating system, and the HTC launcher, but also the TouchWiz Launcher — the front-end mobile interface designed by Samsung. That means Home is designed to run on the more traditional Android OS installed on handsets made by OEMs other than HTC. Essentially, Facebook could ship a version of Home that could be downloaded from Google Play onto a wide variety of devices.
It makes perfect sense and supports what I wrote last week. The premier version of Home could be shown off on an HTC running a build of Android altered by Facebook. This would include the custom homescreen, but also deeper hooks, such as the ability to Facebook Chat while in other apps. On April 4th or a little down the road, Facebook could also offer a slightly less powerful version of Home for standard Android. If both are a success, it could pressure other OEMs beyond HTC to partner with Facebook to modify the Android builds they run to be compatible with the premier version of Home.
This strategy would let Facebook: 1. Build its dream experience on HTC, 2. Offer a deeper homescreen experience to anyone with Android, and 3. Persuade more OEMs to work with it.
That sounds good in theory, but the success of Facebook Home will come down to whether it really adds value on top of the existing Facebook flagship Android app. If not, few will buy the HTC Facebook phone; only the most hardcore social networkers will install the homescreen replacement, and OEMs won’t invest in deeper Facebook functionality. Years of work on Facebook’s part could fizzle out.
But if it does succeed, Facebook Home Users could give us what I call a sixth sense for our social lives by instantly being able to see on our homescreens what’s going on with our friends. It could perhaps even push Apple to open new homescreen modification abilities to developers. And most critically, without manufacturing its own devices, Facebook could gain more control of the mobile experience and drive even more engagement on the small screens that everyone’s switching to.
Read more about Facebook’s big new Android project: