Facebook introduces smartphone software called Home

American novelist Thomas Wolfe once penned “You Can’t Go Home Again” and we’re unsure if Facebook Inc. founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg ever read Wolfe’s book, but today’s announcement that the social networking service had released a smartphone software called Home will in a way attempt to dispel the notion, at least electronically that a person can’t really go home again.

Facebook officials are calling Home a new way to turn an Android-based smartphone into a living, social phone. A place essentially that users will go back to often, Facebook hopes.

In a blog post by Tom Alison and Adam Mosseri on Facebook’s Web site, the company said it designed Home to be the next version of Facebook. Many pundits are saying that Home is Facebook’s answer to increasing advertising on mobile screens.

Analyst Jan Dawson of London, U.K.-based Ovum said any broadening of Facebook’s appeal on mobile devices would have to be broad-based, and the Android launcher approach allows it to target a huge installed base of hundreds of millions of Android users, which will be a large chunk of Facebook’s total user base of more than a billion people.

“To users, the sell here will be making it easier to share information, photos and so on with friends. But to Facebook, this is about becoming more deeply embedded in the operating system on mobile devices, and creating a broader platform. Since Facebook doesn’t make an operating system for mobile devices, this is the next best thing. It will allow Facebook to track more of a user’s behaviour on devices, and present more opportunities to serve up advertising, which is Facebook’s main business model. And that presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict. Users don’t want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both,” Dawson said.

According to Facebook, people want to share and connect and discover new information to build meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, smartphones are built around tasks and apps that force users to navigate through various apps just to see what friends are up-to.

With Home, Facebook is trying to change the discussion. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is being careful not to call Home a smartphone, an operating system or an app. Simply it’s a new experience that enables the world to see people and not apps.

What Home will do to your smartphone is give it a new home screen called Cover Feed. Cover Feed replaces the lock screen and home screen on your device and it’s a window into what’s happening with your friends. For example, if your friend is finishing a bike ride you will see that. Or if you family back home is at the dinner table; you will see that.

By making Home your home screen this type of content come directly to you and you are able to flip through to see what other friends are up to. To like it you just need to double tap the screen.

While Cover Feed is a view of the world, Chat heads is an area of Home that enables users to communicate with friends. Facebook has integrated SMS into its Messenger for Android, which will allow users to deliver messages as well as texts even if they are using another app.

Even though Facebook is not calling Home an app it does have a way to launch apps. By swiping in the up direction Home will launch all of your apps.

Dawson added that Home is a great experiment for Facebook. “It’s much lower risk than developing a phone or an operating system of its own, and if it turns out not to be successful, there will be little risk or loss to Facebook. If it does turn out to be successful, Facebook can build on the model further and increase the value provided in the application over time. The biggest challenge will be that it can’t replicate this experience on iOS, Windows Phone or BlackBerry, the three other main platforms,” he said.

Home is going to be initially available as a free download from the Google Play Store starting next week. Look for Home on HTC One X and One X+ smartphones along with Samsung Galaxy S III and Note II units. In the coming months, Facebook plans to offer Home on HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 devices.

You will also find Home pre-installed on smartphones through the Facebook Home Program. HTC and AT&T are the first companies working together to deliver a smartphone with Home, according to a blog post on Facebook’s Web site.

Will end users go to Facebook’s Home? The company is hoping that Wolfe message sent back in 1940 becomes a dated one.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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