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Facebook Says It Has Learned Important Android Lessons From Building Home

Facebook’s mobile image took a bit of a beating in the weeks that followed the April launch of its Home software for Android.

Ondrejka, right, with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

But, more than six months later, Facebook mobile engineering VP Cory Ondrejka said that the company learned a lot from the experience — knowledge that is going into both improving Home and into developing other mobile products.

“We will keep iterating on Home,” he said during an interview at this week’s Techonomy conference near Tucson, Ariz. “We really have a better understanding of where to take Home in the future.”

One of the most recent changes is the capability to add photos from other services to be part of the Facebook Home experience (Home replaces the standard Android lock screen and home screen). That and other improvements mean that those who try Home now may have a more favorable impression than those who did so in its early days.

“Most people have never seen Home,” Ondrejka said. “They may have heard about it.”

More broadly, Ondrejka said the Facebook Home experience has helped the company better develop overall Android software. By digging deeply into the operating system, Ondrejka said the company has a keen understanding of the kinds of products it can create going forward.

Google has also turned on options in its Google Play Store that let the company simultaneously offer early alpha and beta versions of its products to willing testers while maintaining an earlier version for general consumers. That is a big deal, he said, since even a large company like Facebook can’t possibly internally test on all the different combinations of devices and operating system versions that the software will be run on after release.

Meanwhile, a project to preinstall Home on phones appears to still be in hiatus. Facebook touted a wide range of expected hardware partners when it launched Home, but the effort was put on hold after initial critiques of Home and slow sales of the HTC First, the lone device to ship with Home preloaded. AT&T eventually sold through the initial batch of HTC First devices, following price cuts.

Ondrejka said that preloading Home has become less necessary after a range of changes that Google has made in recent updates to Android.

Instead, Facebook has been focusing on its core app, as well as companion programs such as Facebook Messenger.

“It’s certainly something we are always exploring,” Ondrejka said.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald