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Facebook's Home launcher for Android creates 'Facebook Phone'

Facebook's new Home launcher for Android is available April 12 as a software download from Google Play.

Welcome to your new home on Android. Strangely enough, it looks a lot like Facebook. Facebook's new launcher for Android, simply called Home, brings your social life to the forefront of your phone.

Home turns Android devices' home and lock screens into a social experience with photos and status updates from your friends. Its new user interface layer is called Cover Feed.

Using Home, you can flip through stories by swiping across your screen, double tap to like a photo, and comment on a status update, all from the home screen.

"Today we're finally going to talk about that Facebook phone," Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the packed event here on Thursday where Home was announced. "Or more accurately, we're going to talk about how you can turn your Android phone into a great social device."

HTC and AT&T will build the first set of phones optimized for Facebook Home. First out will be the well-named HTC First, available April 12 in four colors on AT&T's LTE network.

AT&T can take your preorder for the $100 HTC First starting Thursday.

"It's a great opportunity to bring mobile and social together," HTC CEO Peter Chou said at Facebook's event.

What exactly is Facebook Home?

Facebook Home is an integrated Facebook experience for Android that revolves around the homescreen. It's not quite an overlay, and not a full on operating system, but something in between.

"We're not building a phone, and we're not building an operating system, but it's deeper than just an app," Zuckerberg explained.

Facebook Home brings the Facebook experience straight to your Android phone's home screen. Your Newsfeed is displayed straight on the home screen, whether it's locked or in active use.

This homescreen feed--called "Cover Feed"--will be updated in real time, even if your smartphone is asleep. Users can double tap on any activity to "like" something, add a comment with a single tap, and interact with fellow Facebook friends more efficiently.

Another key feature of Home is Chat heads, Home's messaging system. Essentially, Home combines SMS with Facebook messenger, and a message will pop up over whatever app you're working in to eliminate the back-and-forth usually necessary with messaging.

A small thumbnail featuring a contact's Facebook profile picture (or Chat head) will be displayed as a small overlay along the right-hand side of the screen when you get a new message. Tap the photo to open the message and respond, without leaving the app you're currently in.

At launch, Cover Feed will only feature photos and status updates; you won't see group joins, check-ins, friend acceptances, videos, ads, or promoted posts on your Cover Feed activity.

But because Facebook plans to update Home monthly, we can expect to see all of these features integrated with Cover Feed down the line.

Home users have a few settings to tweak to customize their Cover Feed experience. You can choose whether Cover Feed will appear on your home screen, lock screen, or both, and you can disable Chat head popups if you don't want to be disturbed.

If you'd like to try Facebook Home before you commit to using it full time, Android gives you the option to launch it "Always" or "Just Once" after installed.

"We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system," the Facebook founder said. "We're building something that's a whole lot deeper than an ordinary app."

What phones come with it pre-installed?

The custom Facebook Home launcher will arrive on select Android phones on April 12, including the Samsung Galaxy S3. Home won't be on all Android phones, but the feature will be gradually rolled out starting on that date.

Users with Facebook already installed on their Android phone will get a notification when Home is ready for their device. Home also can be downloaded for free from the Google Play store.

Facebook will offer a Home Program to phone manufacturers and carriers that want to include Home on devices out of the box.

HTC and AT&T were first up, but expect more devices to include Home later this year.

Zuckerberg emphasized the open-source nature of Android when introducing Home, indicating that the deep integration of Facebook with the operating system wouldn't be possible on another platform. He also said Home for tablets would arrive in the next couple of months.

Home's social features

Home turns your Facebook app into an all-encompassing mobile experience, but it doesn't ignore your other apps.

Your Facebook profile photo is at the bottom of the screen, and swiping up will bring your apps to the forefront.

"The home screen is really the soul of your phone," Zuckerberg said. "You look at it about 100 times a day. It sets the tone of your whole experience."

Home also turns messaging into a more social experience. When your friends send you Facebook messages or SMS texts, their photos pop up in bubbles on the right side of your screen.

Facebook calls those bubbles Chat Heads. A small thumbnail featuring the contact's Facebook profile picture will display as a small overlay along the right-hand side of the screen when you get a new message. Tap the photo to open the message and respond, without leaving the app you're currently in.

Facebook's mobile march

Home is part of Facebook's continued efforts to make the social networking system more mobile focused. In 2012, Facebook redesigned News Feed to make it more mobile-friendly, followed by an updated app for iOS that really showed off Facebook's mobile optimization.

"With Home, we're now not just mobile first, but mobile best," Zuckerberg said.

But do we really need to have our Facebook feeds featured front-and-center on our smartphones?

Apparently, it already is. According to Facebook's research, the average smartphone user already spends about 20 percent of his or her time on Facebook. Throw Facebook-owned Instagram into the mix, and we're looking at closer to 25 percent.


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