Facebook introduced a new Android app called Facebook Home and partnered with HTC to launch a new phone called HTC First, at an event held in its headquarters at Menlo Park, California. Here is a quick lowdown of all the announcements made by the company:
Facebook Home: Facebook introduced a new Android app launcher called Facebook Home, which allows users to view Facebook content on their home screens and have deeper Integration to Facebook on their phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told that phones have typically been app-centric until now, however, they hope to change it to a people-centric approach through this launcher.
For the uninitiated, app launchers are applications which allows users to customize their device home screen, the way they launch apps on their phones and add various other functionalities to it. There are several free and paid launchers available on the Google Play Store with the popular ones being Go Launcher, Nova Launcher, LauncherPro and ADW Launcher among others.
Cover Feed: This launcher introduces a feature called Cover Feed, which replaces the phone’s lock screen and home screen with a rich newsfeed featuring status updates, photos and videos from their friends. One can flip through this content to view more stories and double tap on any status to like it. It also provides direct notifications for actions like a new email, a text message or when a friend posts something on our timeline among others.
What’s worth noting though is that these notifications will apparently feature the friend’s profile picture in each notification, rather the app icon itself which currently appear in Android and iOS smartphones. One can simply tap on these notifications to open them or swipe it down to hide them. One can also swipe up on the homescreen to view a list of their favorite apps in the launcher as well as post a status message or upload photos to Facebook.
While there are currently no ads on the cover feed but Zuckerberg has mentioned that they eventually plan to introduce ads to the cover feed, as indicated by a The Verge report. We believe this could turn out to be a key monetization opportunity for Facebook if a significant number of people start using this app launcher and the cover feed could go for a real premium price, since it will be present on the user’s lock screen or homescreen.
Chat Heads: One particularly interesting thing we found was a feature called Chat Heads. Currently, whenever we get a message over IM or SMS, we are forced to switch over from the current application we were using, to that specific application to respond to that message. However, Chat heads allows users to view IMs over Facebook Messenger or SMS as a popup over the current application, and users can respond to that message from within the popup and then continue using their current application. It would be interesting to see if either Apple or Google introduces a similar functionality in the forthcoming versions of iOS or Android.
Availability: Facebook informed that the app will be available as a free download on Google Play Store from April 12 and will be initially available for six Android phones including HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II. (P.S. Its quite interesting that Google’s flagship phone, Nexus 4 doesn’t feature in the list).
Facebook also added that they would be updating Facebook Home with new functionalities and support for more devices on a monthly basis.
Facebook Home Program: Zuckerberg also announced a new initiative called Facebook Home program, through which operators and handset makers can preload this app launcher to their mobile devices, however he didn’t disclose any specific information on this.
Zuckerberg however claimed that they have already signed up partners like HTC, Samsung, Qualcomm, Huawei, AT&T, Orange, Sony, ZTE and Lenovo among others for this initiative.
HTC First: Along with this, Facebook has also partnered with HTC to launch a new Android smartphone called HTC First. Facebook told that HTC First will be the first mobile device which will come preloaded with Facebook Home launcher and Instagram. Besides this, HTC First will feature a 4.3″ screen, Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’, Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera and support for LTE. The phone is expected to be available through AT&T for $99 from April 12, 2013. It’s currently not clear if HTC plans to launch this phone outside United States.
Our Take: The Android launcher that Facebook has launched is not a new thing since there are a plethora of app launchers available through Play Store, however this is possibly the closest Facebook could’ve come to launch a ‘Facebook Phone’. We haven’t tried the app yet, but considering the rich nature of the app, we are a bit curious on how this will impact the phone’s battery life. If the launcher turns out to be a battery guzzler, we are a bit skeptical if users will continue using the app. Also, considering that mobile Internet speeds are still relatively low in the country, we wonder if the launcher will work seamlessly on Android phones.
That being said, its possible that Facebook will probably tie-up with operators to offer a stripped down version of this launcher in the future. We are also curious if any local handset makers like Micromax or Karbonn will make use of the Facebook Home program to preload it on their handsets.
On the flip side, this launcher would allow Facebook to collect huge amount of consumer data, which they wouldn’t able to collect otherwise. This could eventually lead to more personalized ads for Facebook users and more number of ads for the company.
(With Inputs From Apurva Chaudhary)