Facebook unveils 'Home,' a family of apps for your Android phone

The social network dials up a new way to hook people on its mobile-phone software. And HTC will release the first phone with Home pre-installed.

facebook home android htc
Facebook Home on Android James Martin/CNET

Facebook unveiled a new "Home" on Android at a press event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters today -- a family of apps meant to keep mobile audiences always affixed to its social network.

Facebook Home consists of a set of the social network's apps that become the home of your Android phone. With Home, the device's home screen transforms into "Cover Feed," or a visually rich and swipe-able version of News Feed for your phone. Home also includes a more picture-perfect version of messaging, complete with a Facebook-invented feature called "Chat Heads," with colorful notifications that include friends' pictures.

"We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. "We're building something a whole lot deeper than an ordinary app."

Facebook showed off the software, which can be downloaded to a limited number of Android phones starting April 12, and also invited partner HTC to unveil the HTC First, the first smartphone to come with Facebook Home pre-installed. (See CNET Reviews' Editor's Take here .) HTC CEO Peter Chou said the new device, arriving exclusively with AT&T, represented a "great opportunity to bring mobile and social together."

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Today, phones are designed around apps, not people, Zuckerberg said. "We want to flip that around."

The social network aims to turn the current model on its head with a Facebook-centric view of your world. With Home, Messaging in particular has been tailored around people. The Facebook Home-modified functionality offers users a way to engage in multiple conversations with a single tap, and includes something called " Chat Heads ," which are basically interactive profile pictures that you can have a little extra fun with.

Chat Heads offer message previews and allow members to dive into conversations with one tap. They're enmeshed within the entire phone experience, which means you'll find active Chat Heads sitting atop the screen as you do other things. The flying heads, which you can flick around with reckless abandon, work with both Facebook messages and standard text messages.

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Chat Heads James Martin/CNET

Advertisements will not be a part of Facebook Home at launch, but ads will find their way over to the experience at some point, Zuckerberg said.

Today's event clarifies a number of reports from a rumor mill that's been running fast and furious ever since Facebook announced the event one week ago. The company, according to a bevy or credible-sounding reports and alleged photo leaks , was expected to showcase a new HTC device running a tweaked version of Android that makes the social network's apps and functions native to the smartphone.

Investors initially weren't all that keen on the suspected Android news, though some seemed to have a change of heart Wednesday after JPMorgan analysts quelled fears about the social network's mobile users jumping ship to other applications. JPMorgan has a $35 price target for Facebook, which closed Wednesday at $26.25 a share.

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