For a company that has struggled with mobile for years, Facebook Home is Facebook getting the mobile experience right. In the brief hands-on time I had at the event, it was clear this is just the first major step forward in the company’s mobile obsession. It’s elegant and modern — just what Facebook needs on small smartphone screens.
Once you have Facebook Home on your Android phone, your lock screen turns into a very pretty Cover Feed — Facebook’s new term for its stream of photos and status updates that take up the entire screen. Without even unlocking your phone, you see the latest updates from your friends in a slow pace that lets you actually read and follow. Unlocking the phone and going right to your Facebook Home screen is as quick and easy as swiping to the left for a new photo or status update, or swiping your profile photo at the bottom of the screen.
Facebook didn’t let anyone sign into devices with their own accounts, so our only experience was with a demo device that, presumably, held an employee’s account.
The phone’s lock screen also displayed the user’s latest notifications — for example, a new like or message. Simply swipe to the right on a notification and you’ve removed it. That’s just one of many quick gestures Facebook has included, making it easier than ever to interact with posts. “Like” and “comment” buttons are right there in the bottom left corner, but you can just as easily double-tap to like a post. Tap and hold a photo in Cover Feed and it will zoom out so you can see the full image. Let go and the photo zooms back in and takes up the screen. Swiping left and right for different updates is quick and smooth.
You can access all of your apps by tapping the center home button or, if the phone is locked, by swiping your Facebook profile photo up toward the Apps option. From there, you also get the quick Status Update, Photo and Check-In buttons above your pages of apps.
Facebook Home isn’t thoroughly polished quite yet. It could use many other features — posting content directly from the home screen, instead of having to go into the app drawer comes to mind — and finesse. There is no customization for Cover Feed, so if you want to scroll vertically through a more typical News Feed (like the one you see the current Facebook mobile app) you have to go to your app drawer and open the main Facebook app. And when you tap on a friend’s face in a post, you go to the main Facebook app as well. It’s a somewhat jarring effect to go from the modern Facebook Home back to an older app that looks and feels nothing like Home. It’s full of chrome and is cluttered by comparison. It’s a safe bet that Facebook will move quickly to eliminate the need to go into the Facebook app to do anything in Facebook Home.
One of the most impressive features is the
poorly AWESOMELY [-Ed] named Chat Heads. Instead of using an outside messaging app to chat or text with friends, a small circular icon of your friend’s profile picture appears on the home screen. It floats there, hovering over any other tasks you’re doing. You can tap your friend’s photo to pull up the entire message thread, and drag it off the home screen once you’re done. You can have multiple Chat Heads on your home screen and move them around as you see fit. For a phone focused on people, this is an impressive feature. The best part is it works with Facebook Messenger and SMS — the only difference between the two is the color of the text bubble. It’s something I’d actually like to see in other operating systems, whether it’s attached to Facebook or not.
Facebook Home is all about engaging with the social network and providing Android users with an awesome Facebook experience. It accomplishes that. The problem is figuring out who wants to engage with Facebook this often. Take a look at Windows Phone, which touted the same people-first lingo with the launch of Windows Phone 8. Its People Hub also brings users the latest in their social networks — including Facebook. The People hub is populated with Facebook friends, along with those in other social networks. In many ways, Windows Phone is already a Facebook Home, although slightly more muted.
The good thing about Facebook Home is that you don’t lose the Android experience. Facebook is currently seamlessly integrated into Android. You still have everything you’d want in terms of web browsing and search and apps. For people who want Facebook with them wherever they go, this is the social network’s best mobile experience to date.