Facebook’s event today is all about a new “Home on Android,” and that’s exactly what Facebook Home delivers. The Android launcher integrates Facebook features into most aspects of the Android smartphone experience, eliminating the need to jump into a dedicated Facebook app in most situations. It brings a very different experience vs. vanilla Android, and here are the features that make it something users might consider switching for.
1. Cover feed Is Actually People
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the Facebook Home project is based around the idea of what a device would look like if it was designed around people, rather than around application and software. Home actually starts with your Cover feed screen, which features people and connections. It presents your social feed in a way that focuses on one thing at a time, with full-screen images, comments and text updates that let you actually zero in on what your contacts are doing.
The idea of narrowing the focus of a feed to one thing at a time is very pleasing in terms of aesthetics, but it also actually does a good job of quieting the normally noisy world of social feeds. Claiming that your design is focused on people is one thing, but building an interface that emphasizes paying attention to one person at a time is living that idea.
2. Chat heads Is Like iMessage On Steroids
Chat heads has a very dumb name, but in practice it actually looks very practical. You have a running conversation that jumps from app to app, and can either use Facebook’s own Messenger product, or your phone’s built-in SMS to communicate. For the user, the difference won’t be terribly apparent or important to an end user. The conversation is overlaid on whatever you’re currently viewing, so that you don’t have to leave whatever app you’re currently working on.
It’s actually a surprisingly smart way to think about mobile messaging, and it’s surprising it hasn’t been done before. Again, I can’t even believe that they went with “Chat heads” as the actual name, but it looks like a very promising service. And potentially a big blow to cross-platform messenger apps like WhatsApp, LINE, and others.
3. Updates Every Month
Facebook boldly committed to updating Facebook Home monthly, which it touted as a way to make sure that users know when to expect new features and service improvements. It’s a relatively small thing, but at base it’s a commitment, which is more than most can offer in terms of guaranteed updates incoming. There are some challenges here: how will Facebook ensure that its updates can keep up with and run on all the various underlying versions of Android it’ll be running on. But for users waiting to see when problems will get fixed, usually without any idea when that might happen, a guarantee to deliver on a monthly basis is no small thing.
Stock Android is missing a robust notification system, which Facebook Home actually rectifies, thanks to a notification interface that pops up with proper text content on your Cover feed, displaying notifications not only from Facebook itself but from other Android apps as well. It’s a huge improvement over a blinking light and stats bar icons, and one that means you can actually act on content as it comes in.
Facebook hasn’t forked Android or rewritten it, but it has created a launcher that could be one of the best currently available, and one that will especially appeal to those who are already heavy users of the social network. By seeking to improve on Google’s OS, Facebook treads territory already explored by smartphone OEMs and third-party software developers, but it looks to have a well-thought out product that could attract users to make a change even when they resisted messing with their default launchers in the past.