Facebook Home: everything you need to know

The social network launches the Facebook Home app for Android phones and a Facebook/HTC smartphone.

Facebook last week announced the launch of the Facebook Home app. In effect, the Home software -- a family of apps -- 'hijacks' your Android handset, turning it into a 'social phone' centred on Facebook itself. In fact, it modifies your mobile to such a degree that a few tech pundits have described Home as 'a replacement for Google Android OS'.

Here are Home's four main features:

Cover Feed
Cover Feed replaces your lock screen, home screen and Android menus with a kind of streaming News Feed -- 'a window into social contact' with your Facebook friends. You then flip through this content and simply double-tap to 'like' what you see.

Chat Heads
Chat Heads enable you to keep messaging with friends while using other apps. When someone sends you a message, a chat head appears with your friend's face to identify who is contacting you. Messages reach you even when you're checking email, browsing the web or listening to music.

You can move Chat Heads around and respond to messages as you wish. Also, as SMS is integrated into Facebook Messenger for Android, Chat Heads include Facebook messages as well as text messages.

When something more important happens that is specifically aimed at you, such as a post to your Facebook timeline, you'll get a notification with the poster's profile picture. To open these notifications, you tap them, or swipe to hide them until you're ready to deal with them.

To get to your apps in Home, you swipe up to see your favourite apps in the launcher. Also, there is a screen containing all of your apps, from where you can drag favourites to the launcher.

How to get Home
If you like the idea of turning your existing mobile handset into a Facebook-centred phone, then Home will soon be available as a free download from the Google Play Store. US users can download Home from 12th April, and it will be available in other countries shortly afterwards.
Here's the list of Android phones that Home currently works on (with more handsets and tablets to be added in the coming months):
  • HTC First
  • HTC One (Future)
  • HTC One X
  • HTC One X+
  • Samsung GALAXY S III
  • Samsung GALAXY S4 (Future)
  • Samsung GALAXY Note II
Home will not be available on Apple devices, such as iPhones, iPads and Macs.

When you first launch Home, you can 'Try once' or select 'Always' to replace your home and lock screens with Home. Each month, Facebook plans to release an update to Home, adding new features and supporting new devices.

Alternatively, you can purchase a handset with Home pre-installed. The first of these, the HTC First, goes on sale in the US on 12th April by AT&T. Unlike Apple and Samsung, Facebook is not building handsets. Instead, Home functions as a family of apps, become 'the home of your phone'.

Home, sweet Home?
As an intentional latecomer to Facebook (I joined only a few weeks ago) and someone who doesn't even own a mobile, Home clearly isn't for me.

And given that users spend an average of only a fifth (20%) of their mobile time on social apps, Home will not appeal to audiences of all ages. Nevertheless, Home and the Facebook/HTC smartphone will surely appeal to the younger generation, many of whom build their lives and relationships around the number-one social network.

As for the HTC First handset, there are no clues as to UK pricing yet. However, the phone will soon be on sale in the US for $99.99 (£65.33) on a two-year network contract. For a full-function smartphone, this appears relatively cheap, but US networks contracts are notoriously expensive.

An app for tracking and advertising?
Like many other Android-based apps, Home will track your behaviour and collect various personal data, thus raising the usual privacy issues. Eventually, Home will display targeted ads -- something which could easily become pretty annoying over time.

So it's probably worth holding back from buying a Facebook/HTC smartphone until there are enough early adopters for HTC and Facebook to iron out teething problems, bugs and faults. If you really fancy trying out the Home experience, then first give the Home app a try before you buy.

The UK media millionaires

The UK media millionaires