Is Facebook Home worth getting excited about?

HTC FirstThere’s a good chance that you have a Facebook account and an Android smartphone. If you do then the new Facebook Home release is aimed at you. It is effectively an overlay, or launcher, for Android that focusses your smartphone on your Facebook account. It is available for free from today via Google Play for a small, select group of Android phones.

What does it do?

You’ve probably already got a Facebook app on your smartphone, so what do you need Facebook Home for? Well, Facebook Home is basically like a launcher app (there are loads of them in the Play Store). It replaces your lock screen, your home screen, and your app menu. That means when you turn on your phone you’ll see your “Cover Feed”, which is basically status updates, links and images, from the news feed in your Facebook account. You can like or comment directly and it updates every 30 seconds, so every time you turn on your phone you’ll see the latest post from your Facebook news feed. Your traditional Android notifications will also pop up here and they are prioritized over status updates.

The app launcher, accessed by swiping your profile pic up, is basically a standard 4×4 grid of apps with Status, Photo, and Check In options in a bar at the top. From here, you can swipe right to access your full list of apps and press and hold to add whatever you want quick access to into the app launcher. The background is your most recently viewed Facebook photo.

Messaging is the most exciting aspect of Facebook Home, as something called Chat Heads provides you with a centralized conversation repository. It combines text messages and Facebook chat. When a new message comes in it will pop up as a bubble with the sender’s Facebook profile pic, regardless of which app you are in, so you can chat while watching video or browsing the web.

Facebook’s play for mobile

The endless speculation about a Facebook phone was dealt a blow when Zuckerberg and co. unveiled Facebook Home. Why develop your own hardware and try to compete in a tough marketplace when you can piggyback existing smartphones with your software and reach millions?

There are around one billion Facebook users worldwide, according to research by Flurry, and the average time users spend on Facebook every day is 30 minutes. In the U.S. a staggering 18 percent of all the time spent on Android or iOS devices is spent on Facebook. People are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to go online and so it’s natural for Facebook to start targeting the mobile market.

Why only on Android?

Currently Facebook Home is an Android exclusive and there are no plans to bring it to iOS, Windows Phone 8, or BlackBerry 10. There are two reasons for this. Almost 70 percent of all the smartphones sold in 2012 were running Android. It is also the only platform that’s open enough to allow Facebook to develop its own launcher.

Both Apple and Microsoft will argue that iOS and WP8 already offer tight Facebook integration, but hardcore Facebook fans may well bemoan the lack of the new service on other platforms.

Behind this release there’s a real battle brewing between Google and Facebook as both companies look to capture as much data as they possibly can in order to serve advertisers and generate profit.

The problems with Facebook Home

There’s one glaringly big problem with Facebook Home and that’s the data issue. It will be syncing frequently and eating up your data allowance if you let it. You can turn Facebook Home off, and you can set data use and image quality to low, medium, or high. You could set it to high when you’re connected to Wi-Fi and switch it off, or to low, when you go out and about, but it’s a bit of a hassle and you have to remember to do it.

We’ll have to wait until we get a proper hands-on, but it seems likely that Facebook Home is going to heavily impact on your battery usage as well.

Functionality is also limited in the first release, you may have to dip into the old app for some things, and there’s no support for widgets, which many Android users love to use (you would have to exit Facebook Home).

There’s also a lack of supported devices right now. It is supported on the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II to start with, and it will work on the forthcoming Galaxy S4 and HTC One as well. There’s also the HTC First, which is a fairly basic smartphone that will be landing on Everything Everywhere as an exclusive. It costs $99 in the States so it will probably be around the same price in pounds.

Early days

Facebook Home will be updated over time and we’re sure that new features will filter in and user feedback will drive improvements. To answer the question in the title of this article, it’s worth getting excited about if you love Facebook. Casual users, people concerned about Facebook mining their data, and anyone who is content with the current app, will see little benefit in using Facebook Home.

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.