Facebook Home skins Android, puts your friends first

Facebook Home is the social giant's new Android software, designed to entirely replace your phone's interface to put your friends' updates first.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
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Facebook has massively overhauled its Android offering, creating 'Home' -- a launcher which completely replaces your Android phone's interface to put all your friends' updates on your homescreens.

When you install Home and turn on your phone, you'll be met with page after page of full-screen images of you Facebook friends called Cover Feed. Each page shows an update -- status, photo and so on -- for you to flick through, 'liking' items and commenting directly from the interface. These pages load in the background so you'll have fresh content from your mates each time you turn your phone on -- you'll of course have to keep a close eye on your data allowance.

It's built on Android, and although it looks rather like its an operating system in itself, it isn't. That means you'll still have access to all your usual apps. Swiping up from your face icon at the bottom of the screen will allow you to access all your apps and system settings.

The new app also brings the hilariously named 'Chat Heads'. When you receive an SMS or a Facebook message, your friend's Facebook picture will pop up as a small icon over your app so you can see exactly who's bugging you. You can carry on doing whatever you're up to, and read the message when you see fit. Tapping the floating head opens up the message in a hovering window above your open app, meaning you don't need to jump in and out of different apps.

It's quite neat, but it so far only works with SMS and Facebook chat. It won't do the same if you receive a message through WhatsApp or Google Talk. It's nice to be able to ignore the floating face until you see fit, but I don't really think it's adding anything over than having a message icon in a pull-down notification bar. Whether it proves to be a genuinely useful solution remains to be seen.

The overall idea is to push all your mates' updates right to the front of your phone. If you're a total Facebook addict and never go more than a minute without checking for any updates, it'll probably be right up your street. There's no escaping the onslaught of information though, so if you prefer to distance yourself from the social networking world, it won't be for you.

Home is set to go live on the Google Play store on 12 April in the US, with UK availability to follow "within a few weeks", Facebook told me. You'll be able to get it on the HTC One, One X, and Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 and Note 2 at launch.

HTC also announced the much-rumoured First. It'll have Facebook Home installed as standard but, like the app itself, will only be available in the US for now. Facebook explained that it will be coming to EE (expect it to be 4G enabled) in the coming months, but pricing wasn't available.

What do you think of Facebook Home? Do you want your friends' updates shoved at you all the time or would you prefer to jump into the app only when you want? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or over on our own Facebook page.

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To see different updates, just swipe between the stories.
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You'll see the 'likes' and comments on the bottom.
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To see the entire image, press and hold on it.
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Double tapping the image lets you 'like' it.
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You won't have your manufacturer's software on the phone, but things like status bars will still be present.
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You'll still be able to access all your normal Android apps.
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There's an easy settings panel too, to change how everything looks.

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