Facebook has announced a new user interface for selected Android smartphones, called Facebook Home, which replaces the traditional Android home screen and interface.
The announcement comes after repeated speculation that the social media giant was working on developing its own smartphone platform, with SmartCompany reporting repeated speculation about the company partnering with HTC on the project.
“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,” Facebook states.
“Today, phones are built around tasks and apps. To see what’s happening with your friends, you pull out your phone and navigate through a series of separate apps… Our answer is Home.”
A key feature of the new interface is called Cover feed, which replaces the standard Android lock and home screens with a full-screen news feed.
Other key features of the interface include Chat heads, which displays an image of a friend’s face when they send you a message, a notifications feature that integrates social media and smartphone notifications, as well as an apps launcher.
According to one leading analyst, the announcement represents a shrewd move on the part of Facebook.
“To users, the sell here will be making it easier to share information, photos and so on with friends. But to Facebook, this is about becoming more deeply embedded in the operating system on mobile devices, and creating a broader platform. Since Facebook doesn’t make an operating system for mobile devices, this is the next best thing,” says Ovum telecoms analyst Jan Dawson.
“This is a great experiment for Facebook – it’s much lower risk than developing a phone or an operating system of its own, and if it turns out not to be successful, there will be little risk or loss to Facebook.”
However, the move does pose risks both for Facebook and the broader telecommunications industry.
“The biggest challenge will be that [Facebook] can’t replicate this experience on iOS, Windows Phone or BlackBerry, the three other main platforms,” Dawson says.
“For carriers, the risk is that this puts Facebook’s communication services front and centre on the device and makes them easier to use and more integrated with the core experience on the device, which should make them easier to use than when they’re buried in an app, and should accelerate the shift from carrier services to over the top (OTT) services.”
Facebook also announced the new interface will be available as a download through the Google Play store on April 12 and will work with the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, as well as future smartphones including the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.
In the US, Facebook Home will come pre-installed on the HTC First, which will be available through AT&T, effectively confirming rumours of a “Facebook Phone”.