Facebook finally announced it's long time rumored "Facebook Phone" which turned out to be much more than a launcher but not really a full on phone...kinda. Basically it's a suite of apps that can be downloaded and installed by approved phones (popular Samsung/HTC phones) for now. But wait, there actually is a Facebook phone that will be released by HTC called the "First". (I know, horrible name) The "First" will operate just as all the other phones that will run Facebook Home but will some slight tweaks. HTC has actually altered Android slightly which allows for email and calendar notifications to appear on the home screen.
Facebook avoided totally forking Android because a) that would make it incompatible with the Google Play Store which would be insane and b) they didn't have to. They were able to completely take center stage on Android phones and surreptitiously push Android to the back, in a sense making all (compatible) Android phones, Facebook phones. The interface is inviting, a bit whimsical and moves more fluid than any Android device I've seen. If Facebook is able to not only convince people to download and try "Home" but sell actual "Facebook Phones" they could potentially take a large chunk of the Android market right under everyone's nose. Basically, beating Google, using Android. Having Facebook as the front facing UI and replacing a lot of Google services with Facebook services, they're able to collect valuable data while also generating ad revenue. Facebook doesn't seem to be totally pushing Google out of the phone, Graph Search isn't implemented (yet) and Google Now is still there, but Mark Zuckerberg said that updates will happen on a monthly basis so we'll see how aggressive they get as time passes and if phones are being sold.
What I Like:
- The interface is beautiful, fun and clever. It's instantly the most appealing version of Android around. The messaging app, "Chat Heads" is a very brilliant idea that places an overlay of the avatar of the person you're talking to. It merges Facebook Chat and your text messages to provide a seamless communication experience with your friends and family. The cool thing about Chat Heads is that you can leave the avatar floating above any place you're at in the phone. At any time you can bring down a messaging app by touching the avatar that allows you to communicate with them whenever you want, even while in another app. They float along the edge of the phone and can be easily swiped, with a nifty sucking like gravity animation to the bottom of the phone to be dismissed.
- Facebook Home is downloadable. You don't have to buy any additional hardware to convert your phone into a "Facebook Phone". If you have one of the approved phones you can download and try it straight from the Google Play Store.
What I Don't Like:
- It's Facebook. Every time you turn on your phone Facebook is there. Staring right at you. Your feed is constantly populating the background of your phone with images. This would be fine if all of your friends are professional photographers but for most people, you don't want to see a lot of the photos your friends are taking on a constant basis. This feature alone could be a deal breaker for a lot of people that may otherwise be interested in the software.
- Facebook Home could anger a lot of regret installs. When you download Facebook Home from the Google Play Store there is a large menu that asks the user if they want to only try it or install it permanently. This is a great step in the right direction but I can still imagine tons of everyday Android users installing the software and not paying attention. Then they decide they don't want it on their phone and won't know how to go back. I'm sure the carriers are going to enjoy those customer service calls.
- Ads. Mark Zuckerberg mentioned post press conference that there will be indeed ads. Of course ads in Facebook isn't anything new but it feels a bit icky to have ads embedded in the OS. We'll have to wait and see exactly how ads will be implemented but on any other device you would only have to see ads when you decided to opened the Facebook app or used Google Search.
Who knows how any of this will turn out 6 months from now. Android nerds are of course poo-pooing not only the Facebook-ness of it all but no other launchers or widgets can be used on top of Facebook Home. If Facebook succeeds with this in not only further pushes the Android brand to the background but it makes a mighty fine iPhone alternative for regular people who just want a smartphone. I can easily see my mom using the "Facebook Phone". It's easy to grasp, $99 and it's Facebook, everyone knows how to use Facebook. iOS has had general usability in it's favor since it's release, while Google has progressively made Android a more consistent and user-friendly OS, Facebook Home knocks it out of the park. It's going to be hard to predict how successful Facebook Home will be but it can't be denied that Facebook put it's best foot forward without creating an entirely new phone.
Mark Zuckerburg had nothing but praise for Google and how open they've made Android. It's kind of like the guy that's complimenting you while slipping your wallet out of your back pocket. With Samsung, Amazon and now Facebook all undermining Android as a brand it'll be interesting to see what Google does, if anything to keep them at bay.