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Why does Facebook Home have a restricted guest list?

When Facebook Home hits Google Play, to download it you'll need an HTC One X, HTC One X+, a Samsung Galaxy S III or Samsung Galaxy Note II

When Facebook Home hits Google Play on Friday, you'll need either an HTC One X, an HTC One X+, a Samsung Galaxy S III, or a Samsung Galaxy Note II  to download it. That's the extent of the list.

But Facebook's new Android launcher that turns your phone into a Facebook-centric device is capable of running on far more devices than just the paltry list above.

Take a look at the image at left, which shows a pre-release build of Facebook Home running, albeit very poorly, on my Nexus 7 tablet.

Leaked version now unavailable

A leaked version of Facebook Home hit the Web early Monday via MoDaCo.com, and Facebook fans, including yours truly, raced to give the new feature a try.

All that was required, MoDaCo said, was a device capable of a maximum screen resolution of 1280 by 768 pixels, and the ability to uninstall your device's Facebook app.

It's not clear what your minimum version of Android has to be, although Android 4.x phones should be in the clear.

If you try installing Home now, however, you'll end up with a similarly blank screen as the one you see here. Facebook, it seems, has turned off the online connection to Home, and early adopters willing to try out the app are reporting the leaked build is now pretty much non-functional.

So much for the openness of Android. You can get Home up and running on devices like the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 7 but, later this week, only the four phones mentioned above will get to download Facebook's latest mobile experience.

Other phones that can come to the Home party

On Friday, AT&T and HTC will release the HTC First that comes with Home pre-installed. The HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 are slated for Home in the coming weeks, and more phones are expected to be added in the future.

"Facebook will be making Home available to all OEMs who are interested in working with them," a Facebook representative told TechHive. "And it will be available on more devices in the near future."

But wouldn't a social network with more than one billion users want to offer Home to a much broader range of users? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks so. "We wanted to turn as many phones as possible into 'Facebook phones,'" Zuckerberg recently told Wired. "That's what Facebook Home is."

Except that's what Facebook Home isn't, at least at launch.

Why can't we all check Home out?

"What's curious to me is that Home doesn't seem to demand a particularly high-end device, given the HTC First specs," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin told TechHive.

The First features a 4.3-inch display with a resolution of 1280-by-720 pixels at 341 pixels per inch, a dual-core 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor, 16GB of onboard storage, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 1.6MP front-facing camera, 802.11a/g/b/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, LTE, and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. The HTC First has some nice specs, but they aren't that different from the Nexus 4.

"I think Facebook feels it can benefit from establishing a deeper and longer-term relationship with device vendors," Gartner analyst Brian Blau said via e-mail. "This is a new effort from Facebook and, if the past is any indication, this new product will take time to develop into something of real value for users." The alternative is for Facebook to try and rush Home out the door, hoping all the functionality works without a hitch across a wide range of devices.

Golvin agrees. "If a customer downloads Home and has a poor experience, has to go through whatever pain is associated with disabling and discarding the app, the probability that he/she will try again is very low," Golvin said. "So by targeting a manageable list of devices, [Facebook] can manage uptake and ensure good experiences."

Facebook Home may be able to run on all kinds of hardware, but the company apparently wants to roll its new app out slowly after careful device testing. Considering how fully Facebook Home takes over a user's device, preventing unintended device crashes and quirky functionality is probably a good idea. The great thing about Android, however, is that walled gardens don't last long.

It's a good bet that starting Friday, the official APK files for Facebook Home will be available for download via developer forums and several Android-focused blogs. So as long as Facebook doesn't hit the kill switch again, daring Android users willing to take a risk should be able to give Home another shot.


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