The 'Facebook phone' isn't what you think it is

Credit: Facebook

Thanks to the success of iOS and Android, mobile is where users are flocking to, and it's where companies will see the most growth. Facebook, however, has resisted building its own smartphone. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied several times his company was building an iOS or Android competitor.

And that's not changing today. Instead of building an actual smartphone, Facebook revealed a layer that sits on top of Android and aims to change the way we interact with our mobile devices.

A New Homescreen On Top Of Android

As it stands, today's smartphones are designed around a homescreen of apps. But Zuckerberg has a different idea of what the future of mobile looks like: smartphones that are centered around content first, apps second — that's what "Facebook Home" is.

Home is a new homescreen launcher that sits on top of the Android operating system. The new lockscreen called "Cover Feed" puts a person's Facebook content front and center; every "Like," message, call, status, etc. In actuality, Home puts the focus of your smartphone on your "friends," as opposed to apps.

To be honest, we're not at all surprised Facebook is launching Home. Over the last few years, the social network has slowly built up its portfolio of standalone apps (Messenger, Camera, Instagram, Poke). It makes perfect sense for Facebook to connect them all into one coherent UI with interactions that flow from one to the other.

By far the coolest feature in Home is "Chat Heads," a way to chat with friends without leaving an app:

Another Facebook Phone From HTC

But just because Facebook isn't building a smartphone itself, that doesn't mean others can't. Facebook's "Home Program" will let other phone makers — Samsung, Sony, and Lenovo, to name a few — create phones with the new homescreen. HTC will be the first to sell an actual Facebook smartphone, once again. (The first Facebook phone was the abysmal "ChaCha/Status" released in 2011.)

The "HTC First" is a $99.99 smartphone that is available for pre-order on AT&T starting today, launching on April 12. The HTC First includes a 4.3-inch display (1280x 720 resolution), 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of internal storage, 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel rear camera/1.6-megapixel front camera, 4G LTE, Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and a 2,000mAh abttery.

In a sea of phablets, the HTC First is a welcome size. Its soft-touch rubber chassis and curved glass across the screen should also feel good compared to the iPhone 5's cold aluminum.

Android For Now, Tablet Support Coming Soon

According to Engadget, Zuckerberg says Home is the "next version of Facebook." The homescreen is also Android-only for the foreseeable future, as the open source OS doesn't require any input from Google, as opposed to Apple's closed iOS garden. Zuckerberg says a "partnership" would be required with Apple to get Home on iOS. Decoding that, it's probably safe to say it'll never happen, as Apple would never cede control of its platform to Facebook.

As for when we can expect Home to arrive on Android tablets, Zuckerberg says that version is still in development, but should arrive within "several months."

Still, there are a few caveats to all of this. Home is essentially a power-sucking layer that smartphones will need to accommodate in addition to whatever customizations of Android a handset maker includes. That can't be good news for today's smartphones that only last around seven to eight hours on a full charge.

Another area of concern is the number of devices that Home will support at launch on April 12. According to Facebook, supported smartphones include the HTC One X, One X+, new One, Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II and upcoming Galaxy S4. Despite the fact that those are some of the best Android smartphones available right now, that's not exactly a huge library of compatibility. For what it's worth, Facebook says more smartphones will be supported in the "coming months."

We're still processing a lot of what Facebook is attempting to do with Home. Until we get some serious hands-on time with it, we can't say for sure if the new UI will have any staying power. Facebook is great for certain things, but we're not sure if we need it coming full-throttle at us all the time. The great thing with containing Facebook in an app is that it's only "on" when we choose for it to be on. With Home, there's no escaping Facebook.

So, dear readers, what do you make of Facebook's new ambitions? Sound off in the comments below.

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