People. Not apps.
That's really the crux of Facebook Home, a new Facebook-first software experience that turns Android phones into, well, Facebook phones.
Mark Zuckerberg made that extremely clear at Facebook's event last week: "Our phones are designed around apps, not people. And we want to flip that around." And flip it around he did. With Home, your Facebook friends take center stage on your phone's homescreen, and your apps fade into the background.
Starting on Friday, the HTC First – the first phone to come out of the box with the software – will go on sale at AT&T for $99.99, and Facebook Home will be available as a free download for select Android phones, including the Galaxy S3 and the HTC One, through the Google Play Store. But do you want Facebook and your friends to make an even bigger home on your most personal device? Or would you prefer it just stay in its room as an app?
Welcome Home, Where Friends Overtake
From the moment you hit the power button on the HTC First, you are in Facebookland, which is not at all like Disneyland. That home metaphor is no joke; Facebook takes over your entire homescreen with Cover Feed, photos and updates from your Newsfeed.
But Facebook didn't just go to Ikea to decorate, it hired a top of the line interior designer: the usual Android lock or homescreen is replaced with a very visual and polished interface. The screen cycles through a series of your friends' statuses, each of which is displayed on top of an image (either a Cover Photo or a shared photo) with a Ken Burns-like panning effect. You can manually cycle through the updates by swiping, double tapping to "Like" a status or photo or hold down on it to see the full image.
Yes, Facebook has made the raw design of Cover Feed very clean and beautiful, but that design can quickly turn ugly. Sure, over the past week I've had numerous photos of cute dogs, delicious baked goods and perfectly refined selfies grace the front of the HTC First. But I've also had lewd photos of a body builder, children I really don't know and bottles of beer stream across it. Unlike Facebook's marketing page, my Facebook Newsfeed isn't a constant stream of beautiful landscape shots, and many of my Facebook friends aren't, dare I say it, real friends.
Although Facebook does allow you to disable Cover Feed from popping up when you turn on the phone, Facebook does not allow you to control what appears in your Cover Feed -- it's controlled by the number of likes and other algorithms -- and subsequently what you see when you unlock your phone. And, yes, that can mean turning on your phone and seeing a wrestler's enlarged genitalia.
At launch, Cover Feed will not include ads or sponsored stories, but Facebook does plan to add them. While it's at it, I wish it would add those personalization options or at least just the ability to just see updates from your favorite friends.
But don't worry, Home still has your other Android favorites. Swipe up on your shrunken, circular profile photo on the lockscreen and you can access your apps. Swipe to the left to open the Messenger app, and to the right to get to your most recent app. In the app tray you can get to all the preloaded Android apps (as well as Instagram) and download your other favorites from the Google Play Store. Even though you can place your favorite apps on the first app screen, apps really do feel like second-class citizens.