Clearly we all need a little more Facebook in our lives.
Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg’s team unveiled the release of “Facebook Home,” a program for Android users that replaces the current system with one that puts Facebook at its focal point. With this system, Facebook becomes the phone’s homescreen. When unlocked, the phone opens up a “CoverFeed,” displaying friend’s photos, status updates, advertisements, shared links and more of the typical features of a Facebook News Feed.
A free download of Facebook Home to convert Android phones will be available this Friday, April 12. The company also announced a preloaded Facebook Home Android phone: the AT&T exclusive HTC First. The HTC First is inexpensive with a retail price of only $100. Zuckerberg hinted that a tablet version might become available later this year but at present, Facebook Home is incompatible with tablets, iOS and other non-Android devices.
To some it might appear that this development is just one click to avoid when accessing the Facebook app. Instead of needing to click the Facebook icon to see what’s going on with friends and family members, as a user must with other devices, the phone directly opens up to what’s happening on the user’s News Feed, downloading information even while the phone is not being used. In this sense, Facebook Home has the potential to change the way in which people interact with their phones. Facebook becomes the phone, and social life the point of the phone.
It’s important to note that the physical phone is not changing, but instead the way in which the phone functions with apps. What if the user wants to get away from Facebook and use a map? In order to access non-Facebook apps, the user clicks his or her own profile picture on any screen. From there the “App Launcher” lists all of the user’s predetermined essential apps, such as Instagram, Twitter, Google Maps, etc. To get to that app, the user drags his or her face where he or she wants to go, navigating away from Facebook.
Another one of the system’s new features is called “Chatheads.” This system combines SMS and IM. When someone “chats” another user, his or her profile picture appears on the user’s screen no matter what app he or she is using. This shortcut includes texts, group chats, and Facebook messages. Besides combining these different types of messaging, on the preloaded HTC First, the user does not have to exit the app he or she is then using to respond, making it much more convenient to answer chats without interruption. So if you are searching Google maps or playing a game, you can easily return to that app after responding to a chat with one less click.
To get rid of the notifications without responding, the user simply swipes them away. Other functions of the Cover Feed are also remarkably simple. To like a photo, the user double taps. To comment, the user taps once. To zoom out of a photo, the user simply taps and holds.
While these gestures are remarkably simple, the phone’s ever shifting Cover Feed raises some concerns. Many users are worried about battery life as the phone downloads information even when not being directly used. Also, Zuckerberg promised software updates every month, in what might be a time-consuming process.
Deeper than these logistical concerns, some phone users also fear that the phone will change the way people interact with Facebook, feeding into its obsessive quality. “So basically instead of being on Facebook for 23 hours a day, now everyone is going to be on for 24 hours a day,” sophomore Mariana Giraldez said.
Despite these reservations Zuckerberg stressed, the product is “people-centric,” focusing on the social life aspect of the phone rather than the apps.
Doubts remain about the future of Facebook Home, but if nothing else, the phone is visually pleasing, as friends’ photos fill up the homescreen, shifting from one to the next, perpetually tapping forward into the next big moment.