Facebook Unveils 'Home' for Android Phones

PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the companys headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., April 4, 2013.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today said the social media giant has jumped into the mobile fray.

"Today, we are finally going to talk about that Facebook phone," Zuckerberg said. "And how you can turn your Android phone into a great social device."

The company unveiled its new Facebook-developed software, called "Facebook Home," based on Google's Android operating system, at a news event at the company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

"We are not building a phone. We are not building an operating system," Zuckerberg said. "We are building something that is bigger than an app.

"We want to shift people's focus on phones away from apps and towards content," he added. "I think this can start to be a change in the relationship we have with these computing devices."

To support the new software, HTC CEO Peter Chou announced a new phone, the HTC First, at the event. It will be the first mobile device to come with the software preloaded. The phone will be supported exclusively on the AT&T LTE network.

The HTC First, which will come in four colors, will be available April 12 for $99.99. Pre-orders are available today.

PHOTOS: Facebook Home and HTC First in Photos

Facebook Home will also will be available for download on a handful of other Android devices that have Jellybean -- Android's latest operating system -- in about a week, Zuckerberg said. The company will release an updated version of Home once every month. But there was no talk of having Home come to Apple's iPhone yet.

Facebook Home is designed to rely heavily on images and "very basic gestures," Zuckerberg said.

It starts with the Cover Feed. When users press and hold their profile picture, featured on the bottom of the Cover Feed, they get shortcuts to their apps and messenger. In the background is content from your Facebook News Feed, including your friends' profile pictures, links to stories your friends have posted, Instagram updates, your friends' status updates, just to name a few, with all of the interaction users get with their News Feeds.

Users can browse though updates by swiping across one at a time, double tapping to "Like" something or clicking on the comment icon to post a comment. Think of the Cover Feed as sort of like an interactive screen-saver for your phone.

From Cover Feed, users can still receive Notifications of new messages or new Facebook updates from friends. Tapping on a notification will take users into the Facebook app itself.

"We all want to talk to people, not apps," Zuckerberg said. "Cover Feed aims to show you the most important thing. Notifications makes sure you don't miss the most critical things."

Another unique feature in Home is Chat Heads, a messaging component that combines Facebook messaging with SMS text messaging. When a new message comes up, it displays your friend's profile picture in a small circular icon. Tapping on their face opens the message.

Unlike current mobile messaging systems, with Chat Heads, Home designer Joey Flynn explained that users don't have to close out of a message to open an app and vice versa. Instead, Chat Heads lets users seamlessly switch in between apps and messaging, and lets users carry on multiple conversations at once.

For example, say you are scrolling through an article, and a notification of a new message pops up in the corner. Clicking on your friend's photo "pops you into the conversation," Flynn said, over the article, without closing it, and then closing the message takes you back to the article.

"You can talk to whoever wherever you're at in your phone," Flynn said.

Facebook Home also offers an App Launcher. Users press and hold their profile picture on the Cover Feed to bring up the App button, which then takes them to their pages of downloaded apps.

The company has been bogged down with user privacy concerns in the past and when asked if it was collecting more data on its users through Home, Facebook said they have analytics on how people use their products and those are anonomized after a short amount of time.

Rumors began to fly about what Facebook might announce when the company sent out invitations to members of the media via email last week that teased it would be showing off its "new home on Android."

HTC, a Taiwanese phone maker, released The Status in 2011, an Android phone that had Facebook branding and specialized Facebook software. The phone wasn't marketed by Facebook and received poor reviews. The company recently announced its new HTC One Android phone.

Amazon has taken a similar route, creating its own version of Android software to run on its Kindle Fire. It placed Amazon's services front and center.

Facebook had been rumored to be working on its own phone for months. But while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said the company is focused on mobile and is a mobile company, he had denied the existence of plans for a "Facebook phone" last year.

The company also announced today that it wants to eventually bring Facebook Home to tablets, but that won't be available until later this year. In the meantime, the HTC First phone could ramp up the pressure on other media giants to expand the mobile market.

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