Sunday, 7 April 2013

Facebook Home: You'll Never Check Facebook Again

At a press conference Thursday, Facebook unveiled Home, a new smartphone software design it cryptically said “isn't a phone or operating system,” but is “more than just an app” and will deliver a "completely new experience." That "new experience" doesn’t stop at the phone’s screen. What Home seeks to deliver is not only a Facebook environment for our phones, but also a Facebook environment for our lives. With Home, Facebook has crossed the line between something people check that they have control over, and deploy according to their wishes and needs to become something that’s always on, checking in with us, fighting for attention, waving people we know in our face. 

Rather than a tool we use to talk to others, the phone, thanks to Facebook, has become something that communicates to us. And it’s Facebook that gets to do the talking. Home, which will be available for download on a handful of smartphones next week, is essentially a Facebook-ified version of Google’s Android operating system, modified by Facebook engineers to place the social network at its core. A flow of updates from the News Feed will be the first thing people see when they turn on their phones the newly named “cover feed,” a slideshow of friends’ photos and status updates, will take over the phone’s primary screen, though users can swipe past to access other applications. 

Home also touts “chat heads,” a feature that brings together texting and messaging, replaces names with Facebook photos and lets users message within any application. Ads will be on their way to the cover feed soon, Facebook conceded. And though the social network didn’t say as much, technology observers, such as Om Malik, have pointed out that Home will let Facebook scoop up even more personal information about everything from our locations to our calls. The social network has a very specific idea of what we should be doing on our phones and has designed Home to push that mission. The phone "[puts] people first," Facebook's director of product, Adam Mosseri, explained at Thursday’s press conference, noting that Home’s design purposefully shifted the focus "away from tasks and apps." Seen one way, Home makes communication with loved ones more seamless, more fluid. Seen another, however, Home lets Facebook ensure we don’t have bothersome news readers, workout trackers or even work emails those irksome apps and tasks  distracting us from Facebook. 

 All tech companies want us to spend more time with their products. But Facebook is unique in that its fortunes depend on convincing us to pay attention to it over all else, and it just invited itself to be the DNA of our most personal device, which we carry with us, on average, all but two hours of our waking day. Google, Apple and Microsoft of course want their users to spend hours with their smartphones and consume liberally from the ecosystem of content they have for sale. Yet they compete with each other in no small part to deliver the smartphone software that will be most intuitive, helpful and easy-to-use. Facebook's software isn’t there to necessarily offer the best smartphone software or most intuitive design, but to offer the best version of Facebook, one that more quickly and permanently attracts our attention.


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