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Facebook Launches Home, Its Android Phone Project

After years of construction, Facebook is at long last revealing its effort to build “a new home” on Android.

zuckerberg at phone event

“Today we are finally going to be talking about that Facebook phone. Or, more accurately, we are going to talk about how you can turn your Android device … into a great social phone,” Mark Zuckerberg said, kicking off the event at company headquarters in Menlo Park. “We think this is the best version of Facebook there is.”

Facebook Home, as the product is known, isn’t a phone, per se, but rather a series of customizations that replaces the look and feel of a standard Android phone with a set of Facebook apps, home screens and messaging experiences.

As we first reported in a series of articles more than a year ago, the project to create a custom Facebook phone on top of Android — code-named Buffy — has been going on for some time.

Facebook has since spent a lot of time noting that it is not building a phone — which is technically true. However, it has built the software guts of one, and it even partnered with HTC to put a hardware face on its the project.

Zuckerberg stressed that what Facebook is doing isn’t building a phone or an operating system, but rather an experience that is a family of apps that becomes your home screen on a standard Android device.

“You don’t need to fork Android to do this,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook Home will be an update on Google Play to the social network’s existing Facebook app. It will be available initially only for phones, with tablet support coming within several months.

Updates to Facebook Home will also come monthly, the company said, arguing that yearly updates such as those made to Android just aren’t frequent enough.

Zuckerberg reiterated why the company is focused on the software rather than a single phone. Zuckerberg said that a great phone might sell 10 million or 20 million units — one percent of Facebook’s total user base.

“We’re not building a phone, and we’re not building an operating system, but we are also building something that is a lot more … than an ordinary app,” he said.

Zuckerberg took aim at the app-centric approach taken by most modern smartphones, saying phones should be about people rather than programs.

Facebook isn’t the only company trying to move away from an app-centric world. Windows Phone, for example, has a People hub that focuses on all the ways that someone connects with a person and their photos and updates.

Apps, of course, are still a part of phones, so an app launcher is just a swipe away.

One particular feature should be more than just an app, Zuckerberg said, and that’s messaging. The company has built a new experience where “Chat Heads” — little pictures of your friends — pop up when a new message comes in.

Beyond the cute head shots, Chat Heads allow messaging to take place in any app, rather than requiring a user to either stop what they are doing or risk ignoring the person seeking their attention.

“It really feels like your friends are always there,” said Joey Flynn, the Facebook designer who created the messaging experience.

Chat Heads work with both text messages and incoming Facebook messages.

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