Last September, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook was not at all interested in making a Facebook phone, saying that "it's so clearly the wrong strategy for us."
Approaching one billion users at the time, getting 10 or 20 million people to use a phone "doesn't move the needle for us." he said. While other companies like Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft were focused on building their own hardware and operating system, Facebook, he said, was "going in the opposite direction. We want to build a system that is as deeply as possible integrated into every major device and things that people want to use."
Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? Facebook was not be getting into the phone business.
Cut to six months later, and with all of the rumors of a Facebook phone swirling around, the question is: did Zuckerberg go back on his word?
Actually, Zuckerberg, who spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference, stayed remarkably true to it. At a press event Thursday, Facebook introduced Home, a new user interface for Android devices that is neither a hardware device or an operating system. Instead, it is a UI that is meant to change the way people use their phones: by changing them to be centered around people, instead of apps.
There are two words that define Facebook, Zuckerberg said: open and connected.
"Open means having access to information and being able to learn about the world around you. Connected means having access to people and being able reach out to, and know what's going on, with anyone you care about. These two concepts are a lot of what makes us human."
Since we spend so much time interacting with people on our devices, Facebook decided that it should make that the aspect that is the center of how a phone will be used.
"What would it look like if, instead of our phones being designed around apps first, and then just being able to have some interactions with people inside those apps, if we flipped that around and made it so that our phones were designed around people first, and then you could also interact with apps when you wanted to?" asked Zuckerberg.
Answer: "Very different."
Home has three features that make the phone centered around people:
- Coverfeed: with Home, when you turn on your phone, it almost looks like your Facebook newsfeed. Instead of a static background with the picture of your puppy or your girlfriend, instead users will see a scroll of stories from Facebook, whether it be new pictures or statuses they have put up. You can both comment and like right from the homescreen.
"The homescreen is the soul of your phone. You look at it around 100 times a day," Zuckerberg said. "It sets the tone for your whole experience and we think it should be deeply personal."
- Notifications: if you get a notification on Facebook, it will pop up on the screen with that person's face and name, instead of an app icon and name.
Users can tap on the notification to pull it up, or they can swipe the notification to throw it away.
- Chat Heads: If someone messages you, a small bubble with their face will pop up. Instead of having to decide then and there whether you want to read the message, the bubble will stay on the screen no matter what else you open, allowing you to continue doing what you were doing and to not forget to answer the message.
"Phones are communication devices, and we spend all day long messaging," Zuckerberg said. "But in today's app centric world messaging is treated like just another app. So that means that all day long when you're messaging you're constantly switching back and forth between apps and that can be annoying."
"We want to talk to people, not apps."
While Home is definitely people-centric, Zuckerberg made sure to note that with the UI does not neglect apps and to note that they are still important, even if they are not the main focus. To get to their apps, all a user has to do is swipe to bring up their apps by tapping the picture of their face at the bottom of the screen. But they will go away once the user is done with them.
Home will be available on April 12th and can be accessed in two ways: it can either be downloaded from the Google Play store, or it will be available on the new HTC First phone, available exclusively from AT&T. The phone can be preordered today and will cost $99.99.
To download Home, a user has to have the most recent Facebook App and Messenger on their Android phone. When it is first launched, users will be able to decide if they want to "try once" or make it permanent by chosoing "always." While Home is not yet on tablets, but will be available on the devices in the next few month. In addition, Facebook also said that it will be releasing an update for Home every few months, to give it new features and allow it to be downloaded on more devices.
"At one level this is just the next mobile version of Facebook. But, at a deeper level, I think that this can start to be a change in the relationship with how we use these computing devices," said Zuckerberg.