Last Friday Facebook released their most recent project; Home. Home is a launcher of home screen for Android phones that is designed to change how users interact with their devices. Rather that being presented with a set of icons to launch apps (iPhone) or a set of widgets (Android stock launcher), Facebook's offering brings first to the recent updates from your friends.
Currently Home is only available for certain recent devices, however with a little bit of help from the internet I was able to get it running on my Samsung Galaxy SII. I've now been running it for a couple of days.
The thing that struck me most about this was, that despite running an up unsupported handset, it felt really snappy. The animations are smooth and it loads information really quickly. It is really fast and responsive. I like that!
I also love the presentation. Full screen photos from people, or cover phones backing status updates just look good. It is really refreshing to turn on my phone and be reminded that this is a device primarily about staying in touch with people.
Another reminder of this comes through the new notifications system for text messages and Facebook Messenger called Chat Heads. When someone sends a message or starts a conversation a little small circle with their profile picture appears on top of the app you are using, allowing you to quickly jump back and forth as you engage in the message and the app being used.
The really big surprise for me was that I didn't notice a huge drain on the battery life on my phone. I have no idea how the Facebook engineers have managed it, but it is impressive considering that it is very graphic and animation heavy.
There are several noticeable gaps with the launcher though, despite the design being focused on people the default menu doesn't make it quick to access the phone! The first three options are for messaging, applications and most recently used application. To get to a dialler you need to go into applications and then, if you have set it up to be on the first draw, you can get to the phone. Perhaps Facebook think that less people use their phone to make phone calls these days…
The other feature I would love to see is more content from different sources being pulled into the home screen, and perhaps content from certain people filtered out. Facebook has lists of friends on it; I would love for it to prioritise stories from some of these groups over others. It is less likely to happen, but I would also love to see data being pulled in from other apps on my phone, such as Twitter or BBC News via some nice API. I think that this may be wishful thinking, but I can hope right?
To me Facebook Home looks like someone sat down in front of the Windows 8 UI (Metro) and thought that it was a neat idea. What Live Tiles do really well is bring important information right to the front screen of your phone, and this is what Facebook does with Home, it brings updates from your friends right to the front of your screen. It is an interesting idea for a phone launcher. I have no plans to uninstall it any time soon, so I think it may catch on, as long as people don't minding giving more information (and their souls) to Facebook.