The Facebook phone has arrived, or will arrive on April 12, giving the social network giant a new window into its users' mobile habits and a more consistent, always-on connection for members of the Facebook community.
"Today we're finally going to talk about that Facebook phone or more accurately we're going to talk about how you can turn your Android phone into a great social device," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at yesterday's widely-anticipated unveiling. "We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system, but we're also building something that's a whole lot deeper than an app."
Facebook Home, an app and series of core services integrated into select Android devices, will be preloaded on the HTC First, a new smartphone that AT&T will sell exclusively for $100 on contract.
The new mobile software, or family of integrated apps, will initially only be available for download in the U.S. on a select number of Android-powered smartphones from HTC and Samsung, but Facebook plans to expand its reach with Home over the coming months.
"We don't want to build some kind of phone or operating system that only some people are going to use,” Zuckerberg said. "A great phone may sell 10 or 20 million units at best… Even if we built a really good phone, we'd only be serving 1 or 2 percent of our community."
He describes Home as a “family of apps” that can be installed to take over the home- and lock-screen of users’ phones. And why would Facebook want to be on users’ home and lock screens? The average mobile Facebook user checks their Facebook app up to 12 times a day, but the average mobile user checks their device’s home screen 100 times a day.
“What we aspired to do with Home is provide a lot more value in that moment,” said Adam Mosseri, director of product at Facebook.
"I think it's pretty safe to imagine that if you choose to have this Home experience, then you're going to be in better contact with your friends” on Facebook, Zuckerberg added. "A lot has been made over time over whether connecting with people online takes us away from connecting with people offline,” Zuckerberg says. But staying connected with people important to us isn't frivolous, he said, “It’s a big part of what we do” and “who we are.”
Facebook began reorganizing its business last year to be “mobile first,” and its revamped iOS app was the first step in that direction. Home is the second step, according to Facebook executives at today’s event.
Home relies heavily on basic gestures such as long and short taps, swipes, and multi-touch. It includes a new cover feed that appears the moment users turn to their phone, a revamped messaging service that incorporates text and Facebook messages in the form of “chat heads” (pictured) and an app launcher.
When asked about how Facebook plans to monetize the new product, Zuckerberg said: “There are no ads in this yet. I’m sure at some point there will be.”
He also clarified that search will not be exclusive to any one provider, reiterating the open nature of Android, and that data from individual usage will only be used to improve the performance of Home.
Because of Android’s open architecture, Facebook didn’t have to partner with Google on the Home project, but Zuckerberg explains that the process is entirely different with each mobile operating system. “The way you work on all these operating systems is pretty different. Apple is a pretty controlled environment…” and Facebook is in “active dialogue to do more with them, but ultimately anything we do on Apple is going to happen in partnership with them.”
Facebook plans to launch a tablet version of Home “several months” after it launches on Android smartphones and is committed to a monthly update cycle.
“We think this is the best version of Facebook there is,” said Zuckerberg.