Like the lost alien in E.T., Facebook is hoping millions of hyper-connected social media users will want to “Phone Home” or more accurately download Home, the new version of Facebook for Android phones.
There were rumors Facebook would announce a so-called “Facebook phone” of its own, but instead the company unwrapped a new mobile version of Facebook called Home which will be available April 12 for download at Google Play.
“We think this is the best version of Facebook there is,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the launch event this morning at company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. “We think this can start to be a change in the relationship we have with computing devices.”
But there was a new smartphone announcement. HTC and AT&T execs were on hand to show off the HTC first, the first smartphone to preinstall Home. The HTC first will be available exclusively at AT&T stores for $99 starting April 12. Facebook said Home will initially work on a limited number of phones including models from HTC and Samsung’s Galaxy line with more to be added in the next several months.
Facebook also a announced a new program for phone makers designed to structure and speed the pre-installation of Facebook to smartphones.
A new smartphone homescreen
The visual interface of Home is its most striking feature. Zuckerberg and other Facebook execs hammered on the theme that Home is designed around the idea of “people not apps.”
Cover feed replaces the phone’s lock and home screen giving you a direct view into Facebook including notification and updates you can flick through with your finger or click and launch for more info.
Another new feature, chat heads, shows you photos of anyone who wants to to chat with you. Tap the image to chat, without losing the app, such as a game or website you may have already launched. You can also have multiple chats going and throw the chat away (get it off the screen) with a flick of the finger.
Home for tablets and frequent updates
Facebook VP Corey Ondrejka said Facebook plans to release a version of Home for tablet soon.
“We think this is a great experience on tablets,” he said. “We’re not quite done, this isn’t a launch, but we’ll try to make it available in the next several months.”
Whether that would include an iOS version for the iPad wasn’t clear.
"This is a first step and we're continuing to iterate," a spokesperson for Facebook said in an email to TabTimes. "We chose to start building on Android because we could build a more deeply integrated mobile experience."