Facebook Unveils 'Home' Software For Android Phones

Facebook's new mobile product isn't a phone, and it's not an operating system.

It's Facebook Home, a software platform that sits on top of Google's Android operating system and deeply integrates Facebook's content and communications into the OS and its apps.

"We're finally gonna talk about that Facebook phone," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg joked during Thursday's press event.

Actually, Zuckerberg said, Facebook Home is about turning your Android phone into a Facebook device. The purpose of the new software product, he explained, is to redesign phones around people instead of apps and tasks.

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Facebook Home's "cover feed" replaces the lock screen and home screen of an Android device with friends' posts and photos from Facebook as well as other social media services like Instagram and Foursquare. Users will still be able to access their apps and tasks by swiping their favorite apps into the Facebook Home launcher.

In addition, Facebook Home comes with "chat heads," which allows users to message friends while using other apps. When a friend messages you, a "chat head" profile with your friend's face appears in the corner of your screen. Chat heads include both SMS text messages as well as Facebook Messenger content.

"We wanted this to feel like system software and not just an app that your run," Zuckerberg said. "We think this is the best version of Facebook there is."

Zuckerberg discussed his company's "mobile first" strategy of enhancing the Facebook experience on mobile devices and explained why the company isn't getting into the mobile hardware or operating system market.

"So we're not building a phone, and we're not building an operating system," he said, referring to months of rumors and reports about a possible Facebook-branded mobile device. "A great phone might sell 10 or 20 million units at best, but our community has over 1 billion people. Even if we built a really good phone, we'd only be serving 1 percent [of Facebook's user base]."

In addition, Zuckerberg praised Google and its "commitment to openness" as well as Android's deep integration capabilities, making it clear the social networking company has no desire to compete in the already-crowded mobile OS market.

Analysts see potential for Facebook Home, but there are some big questions ahead. For example, Jack Gold, research analyst at J. Gold Associates, believes Facebook Home is a step in the right direction for the social networking giant's mobile strategy but wonders how it will generate revenue.

"Obviously they make money on advertisers (and other services)," Gold wrote in his research note. "And increasing the user base is good for that. But will users find this as appealing once they have to put up with ads and other distractions?"

Meanwhile, Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, said that a more deeply integrated Facebook experience will help the company pull more user data for its advertiser. "It will allow Facebook to track more of a user's behavior on devices, and present more opportunities to serve up advertising, which is Facebook's main business model," Dawson wrote. "And that presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook's objectives and users' are once again in conflict. Users don't want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both."

Facebook Home will be available as a free download on Google Play for select Android devices, including HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and forthcoming S4, and Samsung Galaxy Note II.

In addition, HTC will be releasing the HTC One smartphone next week, which will be the only Android device that comes preloaded with Facebook Home. HTC CEO Peter Chou joined Zuckerberg on stage to introduce the device, which will be available exclusively through AT&T and will cost $99.99.

Facebook says it's working on a tablet version of Facebook Home that should launch sometimes in the next few months.