Facebook launches Chat Heads for staying in touch with friends

The feature causes images of friends to pop up on the top of the smartphone screen when someone sends a message. The so-called Chat Head will remain on the screen no matter what app is being used.

Facebook's Chat Heads feature will let users interact with their friends while in any app. James Martin/CNET
Facebook today unveiled its new Chat Head feature for Android devices, giving users a way to stay in constant contact with friends, no matter what they're doing on their mobile devices.

Whenever someone messages you either through text or chat messaging, a small photo of the person will pop up at the top of your screen. It will initially show a brief preview so you know what the message is about. While the preview will go away, the Chat Head image will remain on the top of the screen, no matter what app you access or what else you do on the phone. It also will show the number of unread messages you have.

To close the chat, you can throw the Chat Head away by swiping it to the bottom of the screen. And if you receive messages from multiple people, you can pick up the whole group of messages and do the same. You can manage multiple messages with a single tap.

Chat Heads are "a way you can talk to your friends no matter what you're doing in your phone, no matter what app you're in," Joey Flynn, a Facebook product designer, said.

"What's so cool and special about this is it's happening right on top of the app I'm using and the article I'm reading," he added.

Facebook, in an effort to keep mobile audiences always affixed to its social network, today showed off a new "Home" on Android at a press event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Facebook Home consists of a family of the social network's apps that becomes the home of your Android phone.

"On one level this is just the next mobile stage for Facebook," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. "On a deeper level, this can start to be a change with how we use these computing devices."

Users will be able to download the new features on Android phones starting April 12.

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