As the go-to techie amongst my friends, I’m often asked what exactly Facebook Home is. Let’s see if we can’t break down.
What is it? When you’re on your smartphone, and you press the home button your phone takes you to what we in the nerd world refer to as the “app launcher.” (You might have heard it called a homescreen). Your app launcher looks different depending on what smartphone you have but it’s basic function is to hold a list of apps that you can tap + launch. If you’re using a phone running the Android operating system, you can actually change what type of app launcher your phone uses when you press the home button. Enter Facebook Home. Home (as it’s termed) is a replacement app launcher for Android phones. But Home is not simply a new app launcher, it’s so much more than that. Let’s take a look at the different facets of Home.
Cover Feed: The first part of Home is called Cover Feed. Instead of putting you on a typical homescreen when you press your home button, Facebook Home takes you to it’s main screen called ‘Cover Feed’. Cover Feed is essentially a curated list of photos and status updates culled from your Facebook news feed. If Cover Feed is showing a status update, the photo in the background is the poster’s cover photo. If the post contains a photo, the photo and accompanying text are shown. A long press on the photo fits the photo to the screen so you can quickly see the entire image. Cover Feed will slowly scroll through the updates, but you can swipe right to move through the updates at your own pace.
Tapping on the photo or status brings up two buttons, a ‘like’ button and a comment button. The like button can be used to like the current status/photo or you can double tap anywhere to like the post. In playful fashion, tapping anywhere on a status/photo summons a large thumbs up, letting you know you’ve liked that particular status. Tapping the comment button brings up an overlay which allows you to comment or read preexisting comments. In truth it is a pretty nifty way to interact with photos and status updates from your friends.
App Launcher: Tapping on Cover Feed brings back up a little circle with your Facebook profile picture on it.
This is your navigation. Pressing and holding on the circle shows the three navigational options Home offers. Dragging the circle to the left launches Facebook Messenger. Dragging the circle to the right opens the most recently opened app. Moving the circle up opens your app launcher. You can go left to get a complete list of your apps, or move through your pages of apps. The idea is that, much like a homescreen, you would only put your frequently used apps in the app area and leave the rest of them tucked away in a separate area containing all of your apps. I must admit, this part was rather confusing. If you bring up the app launcher, there a quick space to update your status, share a photo or check in at a location. Facebook power users will definitely find this a handy feature.
Chat Heads: The third main part of Home is Chat Heads. Chat heads are a way to continue a Facebook Messenger conversation no matter where you are in the operating system. A little floating circle pops up in whatever app you’re using signifying an active conversation. If left alone, the chat head will make itself more transparent and less obtrusive.
As MG Seigler noted in his review of the Facebook phone, this is how messaging ought to be. Hidden when you don’t need it, present when you do. The overlay component makes for seamless conversations, you can merely open the chat, respond, and then minimize it and continue doing what you’re doing. It would be great if text messaging eventually got to a place like this!
Those are the main tenants of Facebook Home. It’s nicely designed and has a lot of fun little animations that give it character without being annoying. A few other things things I liked:
The notifications that popped up on the lockscreen were gorgeous.
The emphasis on photos + text often yields fantastic results.
No product is without it’s flaws and Home is no exception. In an effort to keep this piece as merely a take on Facebook Home’s realtime usage I’ll just note a few things that are particularly bothersome with Home.
-Home lacks folders. Facebook might add folders in later iterations of Home but in the meantime it’s rather frustrating to not have folders. Folders help you group apps together and without them you’re with either pages of apps or an alphabetical list of all apps. This is especially irritating for, say, a large collection of photo-editing apps. You want them handy for when you need to edit a photo, but you don’t necessarily want them with all of your main apps.
-In his piece “Apps, People & Jobs to be Done” Ben Thompson postulates that smartphones are somewhat app focused, somewhat people-centric (an app like contacts would be people-centric) but that primarily your smartphone exists to get jobs done. Home’s problem, for Thompson, is that it makes it harder to do those jobs. Thompson is spot on. It’s harder to get to non-Facebook apps in order to get other jobs done, but maybe that’s Home’s purpose? Easy to get on Facebook, harder to get off Facebook.
-Home’s largest problem is that your personal world is not as curated/beautiful/high-res as Facebook’s demos are. Plainly put, most of your friend’s photos look terrible covering your entire screen. On more than one occasion I’ve unlocked my phone only to be greeted by an awkward/terrible photo. In addition to the awkward/low-res problem, Facebook Home automatically curates a list of things that display themselves on the screen. While that’s all well and good for a photo or status posted by a friend of yours, sometimes Home displays something multiple friends have liked (but you care nothing about). Simply put Home ‘s efficacy is a binary opposition; it either works or it doesn’t.
For the time being I’ll continue using Facebook Home. Facebook has promised it will bring monthly updates to Home and those updates will hopefully improve an already decent product. Despite it’s unique take on a mobile found, I’m dubious as to whether Facebook Home will always dominate my screen.