The Facebook Phone is finally here. And, as expected, it’s not really a phone at all. Home, as the new product is called, is a free, downloadable skin that gives existing Android phones a total Facebook makeover, transforming both lock and home screens into immersive, edge-to-edge slideshows of photos and status updates. It is, of course, a huge power play by Facebook. But it’s also a genuinely exciting new vision for mobile design.
Mobile People First
Home isn’t about apps. It’s about people and it’s about mobile UI design.It’s something that’s very much evident in its design. The most immediate transformation comes in the form of a new lock and home screen that continually rotate through Facebook updates, presenting them as flashy, full-screen slides. Weather forecast? Stock quotes? Those old stand-bys are nowhere to be found, getting the boot in favor of one thing: your friends.
What Facebook say:
“The family of apps that puts your friends at the heart of your phone. With Home, everything on your phone gets friendlier. From the moment you turn it on, you see a steady stream of friends’ posts and photos. Upfront notifications and quick access to your essentials mean you’ll never miss a moment. And you can keep chatting with friends, even when you’re using other apps. It’s all part of Facebook Home—there’s no other phone, app or operating system like it.”
You’re already using Facebook
The other big feature is a new messaging system called Chat Heads, which keeps conversations on top of your screen, no matter what app you’re using, in the form of small circular avatars. It’s a new way of thinking about messaging–not as an app but as a layer on top of everything you do.
Connecting, be it passively through the new lock screen or actively through the new messaging system, is what Home is about. Connecting with your friends and with Facebook. The new experience reduces the friction involved in using Facebook to a fantastic degree. What’s easier than tapping an app icon to open Facebook? Not having to tap anything at all. With Home, you no longer have to make the decision to use Facebook. You’re already using it.
Beyond the app
When you move beyond the app, you can do things apps can’t do. Home shows us messaging and communicating in ways we haven’t seen before in ways that are much more relevant. Mobile messaging is no longer an asynchronous thing, as it was back in the days of 160-character texting. It’s more like chat, and Chat Heads, which doesn’t get knocked to the background when you’re using another app, reflects that reality. And it works in a way a simple text message app never could.
Zuckerberg mentioned Android’s wide reach and how, for many people around the world, the smartphone represented their first real computing experience. And in a sense, Home is a bid to transform that experience–to move it away from the app paradigm that Google and Apple have put forward in recent years to something based on connecting and communicating, with Facebook conveniently facilitating it all.
But from one perspective, today’s event not only offered a peek beyond apps, but beyond smartphones too. It showed how the app model might not make sense on devices like Google Glass, where we won’t have the luxury of screens to tap at.
To succeed, that next generation of devices will have to be far more fluid and flexible, in terms of bringing in data and content from a variety of sources and giving us simple tools for digesting and sharing it. That may very well require a more holistic approach to design–a single driving vision that assimilates functions and features into one cohesive experience. Facebook Home is a glimpse of what that next step might look like.