Facebook moves to home screens of Android phones

The Asscoaited PressApril 4, 2013 

Facebook-Mobile

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Thursday, April 4, 2013. Zuckerberg says the company is not building a phone or an operating system. Rather, Facebook is introducing a new experience for Android phones. The idea behind the new Home service is to bring content right to you, rather than require people to check apps on the device. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — ASSOCIATED PRESS

With its new “Home” on Android gadgets, Facebook aims make its social network the hub of people’s mobile experiences. The question, now, is whether people want all their Facebook content greeting them every time they look at their phones.

If users download Facebook’s Home software starting on April 12, Facebook will become the center of their Android smartphones. Switch on your phone and you’ll see friends’ photos, overlaid by status updates, links and eventually, advertisements. If a friend sends you a message, their Facebook photo will pop up as a notification.

Done with Facebook? Swipe your finger to get to a screen with your regular Android apps to listen to music, watch videos or send email.

At first, Home will only work on some Android devices, including HTC Corp.’s One X and One X Plus and Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2. A phone from HTC that comes pre-loaded with Home will be available starting April 12, with AT&T Inc. as the carrier.

The idea behind the software is to bring Facebook content right to users’ home screens, rather than requiring them to check various apps to see what their friends are up to, or to chat. Down the line, Facebook will integrate its existing camera app and other features. Though cameras and calls weren’t part of Thursday’s presentation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised the Home software will be updated at least once a month to add more features and fix bugs.

“Home” comes amid rapid growth in the number of people who access Facebook from phones and tablet computers. Of the social network’s 1.06 billion monthly users, 680 million log in using a mobile gadget. As a result, the money Facebook makes from mobile advertising is also growing.

With Home, Facebook wants to design smartphone software around people rather than apps, Zuckerberg said during the service’s unveiling at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

“Why do we need to go into all the apps in the first place to see what is going on with the people we care about,” he asked.

Zuckerberg said users can have an experience on Android phones that they can’t have on other platforms. That’s because Google makes the software available on an open-source basis, allowing phone manufacturers and software developers to adapt it to their needs.

Recognizing that text messaging is one of the most important tasks on a mobile phone, Facebook showed off a Home feature called “chat heads.” This lets users communicate with their friends directly from their home screens – without opening a separate app.

While that makes sense for Facebook, Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said he thinks the company is overestimating “the extent to which this is something their users want.”

The new Home software won’t be available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Apple’s iOS and Mac operating systems include features that integrate Facebook’s services, but Zuckerberg said doing something like Home would require a closer partnership.

Apple had no immediate comment.

For Google, the announcement isn’t great news. The company gives away its Android software for free, in the hope that it will steer phone users to ads Google sells. With Home, Facebook is inserting itself between users and Google, diverting them to its own ads and services.

The deeper mobile integration will help Facebook to attract more mobile advertisers. Though mobile ads were a big concern for Facebook’s investors even before the company’s initial public offering last May, some of the worry is subsiding as the company muscles its way into the market.

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