Facebook didn’t reveal a brand new phone today per se, but an Android-based feature set called ‘Home’, which it expects to sit on the home screen of all smartphones and will make phones ‘about the people not just the apps’. The first smartphone to come with Home pre-loaded will be the HTC First, which will launch in the US on 12 April for just US$99.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the new feature today at the company’s HQ in San Francisco. “I’m finally going to talk about that Facebook phone, or more accurately turn your phone into a great simple social device. Or turn your Android phone into a great social phone.”
Zuckerberg revealed that users of smartphones today spend about 24pc of their time on their smartphone device using Facebook above all other apps and making calls.
“What would it feel like if phones were designed around people and not apps? Computers have been designed around apps and tasks for more than 40 years. They used to be expensive and clunky and not very fun devices – fast forward 30 years and the user interface (UI) model is largely the same because a lot of the time we still need to do tasks.
“Now we have a new use case. That use case is social, he explained.
“Today’s phones are designed around apps and not people. We want to flip that around and bring content to the front and use whatever apps you need when you need them,” Zuckerberg explained.
Referring to the rumour mill that constantly suggests Facebook should make a phone Zuckerberg said: “We want to bring this experience of knowing what’s going on with your friends right to your phone and deliver that to as many people as possible. We don’t want to build an OS or a great phone that will sell to 10m or 20m people – our community has 1bn people – we want to put a great experience on every phone.”
MZ Phone ‘Home’
“We are not building a phone or an OS, but something deep than an ordinary app,” Zuckerberg said while unveiling a new feature, a sort of cluster of specially build Facebook apps called Home.
The new feature set brings all Facebook interactions directly to the home screen through what is known as Cover Feed and users can simply slip through images and status updates by swiping left to right or double tap the screen to ‘Like’.
Another feature called ‘Chat Heads’ sees the face of people who have messaged you either through Facebook or by SMS to appear on the home screen and users can engage in group conversations.
“All of the interactions are really smooth and natural,” Zuckerberg explained. “It feels like system software and not just an app. We spent a lot of time building up the infrastructure and the tooling.”
Zuckerberg said that Facebook chose Android because it was the most open ecosystem available to allow Facebook’s engineers to build a product from the ground up.
The app will be available to download from Google Play from 12 April
Facebook Home is also going to be available soon in Google Play for a wide range of devices, including tablets.
The first smartphone to come with Facebook Home: the HTC First
Zuckerberg said that Facebook is constantly being approached by phone makers ken to improve the experience of the social network on their devices and he revealed the first device makers to utilise Home will be HTC and US carrier AT&T.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said HTC CEO Peter Chou. “We’re seeing how mobile and social are transforming people’s lives and mobile is fundamentally social.
“The HTC First is the first product to bring mobile and social together and even more closer. It is the ultimate social phone and combines Facebook Home with great HTC design to give the best Facebook experience,” Chou said, adding the device will come in four colours.
AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega said that the HTC First is a full LTE (4G) device that will launch on the AT&T network on 12 April for US$99. He said that users can pre-order the device from today.
“The HTC First is the canvas on which Facebook Home rides,” de la Vega said.
Concluding the event Zuckerberg revealed that the HTC First will launched in Europe through EE in the UK and Orange in France.
“This isn’t just the next mobile version of Facebook but it’s a deeper level of change in the relationship with how we use these computing devices.”
He said that what amazes him the most is that people are joining the internet and the digital economy every day via mobile devices. “But only one-third of the world is on the internet today – we are at the beginning rather than the end.
“In five or 10 years all people will have smartphones – many of them will never have seen a computer as we have seen computers – the very definition of what a computer is and the relationship should not be set for the majority of the world. A lot of that definition is going to be about people first.
“We are about to meet the most empowered generation of people ever – this presents deeply technical and social problems. This is the work we are uniquely built to do,” Zuckerberg concluded.
The onset of Facebook Home will be no doubt welcomed by Android-based smartphone makers who need to differentiate their offerings. The greater unknown is what mobile operators already wary that their lunch is being eaten by OTT players will make of a new communications layer that will sit on mobile devices.
Is Facebook their friend or could it one day be their foe?