Facebook and HTC teamed up on Thursday to reveal Facebook Home and the HTC First, a new Facebook launcher for Android and the first phone that will come with it pre-installed. Facebook's press release states "Home isn't a phone or operating system, and it's also more than just an app. Home is a completely new experience that lets you see the world through people, not apps." The closest approximation to Facebook Home is an Android skin, like HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz--you know, those customized software layers that marred the Android world with slow, clunky user interfaces for the platform's first few years on the market.
Android skins aren't always terrible. Samsung's TouchWiz has gotten much better since the days of Android Froyo, for example. But so has the base Android experience--there's a reason that the stock Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean OS versions available on Google-branded phones like the Nexus 4 are almost unanimously recommended by tech fans.
As Facebook says, though, Home is doing something different. Instead of reskinning the presentation of Android with different widgets, contact lists, and app trays, it's re-focusing the entire phone experience to be all about Facebook. The Verge quotes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "We spend as much as 25 percent of our time on our phone using Facebook and Instagram, he said, so why not design a phone around 'people, not apps?' "
Home is comprised of a series of apps that prioritize people over apps. The Cover Feed app replaces the home screen and lock screen with updates from friends--and ads from Facebook. You can naturally like and comment on posts within the Cover Feed interface. The Chat Heads app works within other apps to facilitate Facebook messaging and SMS. Whenever you get a message, a "chat head" (your friend's face in a little bubble) will pop up on the screen. You can click on the bubble to read the message and respond. Again, the focus is on people, rather than the messaging service or individual app you would normally use to communicate with them.
The full app drawer is still available as its own screen, and the launcher of your favorite apps is accessible with a swipe. Even notifications are Facebookified; The Verge writes "There are badges and notifications on every app that let you know when something new is happening, when someone is communicating with you. Notifications are sorted by friend, rather than app — it says when your friend is doing something, rather than letting you know that an app has something new for you."
Home will be available on the HTC One and One X, Samsung Galaxy S III and IV and Galaxy Note 2. It's downloadable from the Google Play store starting April 12, but will come pre-installed on the just-announced HTC First.
The First is a 4.3-inch Android 4.1 phone running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 processor. Like Home, it will be available on AT&T (with LTE support) on April 12. Since it's launching with Home pre-installed, the first will also have deeper integration of Facebook's app into Android--think system notifications that don't come from the Facebook app. Don't expect the full specs to rival the HTC One, which also ships this month--the First will be available for $100 on contract.