The HTC First is the device Facebook has chosen as the launchpad for its new mobile software experience, Facebook Home.
But forget the phone. It barely matters. It’s slim, simple and low-profile, a middling device designed to fade into the background and bring one thing, and one thing only, to the forefront: Facebook.
Facebook Home is the social networking giant’s Android takeover, or apperating system, as we’re calling it. I’ve been using it since it was unveiled last week, and I can tell you, it’s off to a promising start. Surprisingly, Facebook Home doesn’t bash you over the head with the “Facebook product.” Rather, it elegantly integrates with the Android operating system. You still get access to all of your standard Android apps like Chrome, Maps, Play Store, and Spotify. If anything, Home could benefit from more integration with the broader Android platform as it continues to grow.
A little about what Facebook Home is, exactly. It’s a software interface created by Facebook that changes the look and feel of the Android OS. It comes pre-installed on the HTC First, which sells for $100 with an AT&T contract, and you can also download it for free from Google Play starting Friday, April 12. It only runs on select Android devices for now — besides this phone, it will install on Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Note II, and HTC’s One X and One X+. It doesn’t replace Android, it merely augments it by using Facebook’s services to power the key social interactions you perform on the phone — browsing social media updates, chatting with somebody, sharing a picture, and sharing links.
To that end, it is a success. For people who spend a lot of time on Facebook and want to stay connected to their Facebook friends, Facebook Home makes absolute sense. There’s little reason not to get Facebook Home if you already have a compatible Android device. And even if, like myself, you don’t spend tons of time on the social networking site, Facebook Home adds value to the Android experience without feeling invasive.
Facebook assured get-gadget that Facebook Home does not track your location data — unless, that is, you have opted in to allowing such behavior by turning on locations services in the Messenger app, or by using the Check-in functionality. In that case, it collects your data using the same methods as Facebook’s stand-alone Android applications.
But Facebook’s history of sticky and unpredictable privacy term changes introduces the possibility that this won’t stay true for long, especially if advertising is introduced into Facebook Home. Right now, Facebook Home does not have any ads (yay) but Zuckerberg did say that we might see ads in Cover Feed in the future. This comes as no surprise — the mobile app and desktop versions of the News Feed prominently feature ads. And what’s better than a full-screen, color ad pushed directly to a person’s home screen? When that day comes, Facebook Home will definitely become a whole different ball of wax. Will it start using your current location to serve you relevant ads for nearby deals? That’s a possibility worth considering before buying this phone, or installing Home on your own device.
In its current state, Facebook Home is a bright beginning. It makes absolute sense for people who want to stay connected to Facebook, or those who use Facebook as a frequent messaging system. It doesn’t completely invade your standard Android operating system. It’s free and, for now at least, it’s ad-free. Need a break? You can always turn it off (there’s an option in Settings).
It’s nice to see that after so many failed attempts, Facebook has finally cracked the mobile software riddle. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t screw it up.