Facebook Home: more questions than answers

After a series of rumors and leaks, Facebook revealed that Facebook Home would function as a launcher that brings Facebook integration to the core of your Android phone. Instead of a standard home screen, Facebook will replace it with your Facebook Newsfeed, but called Cover Feed. Essentially, the moment you unlock your phone, you will be inside Facebook’s Cover Feed. The lockscreen is simple and only shows the time and your profile picture.

Launchers on Android are best when they add more options to customize your device like better data usage information or customizing features not standard in Android. Facebook Home denies most of those features by forcing the newsfeed in your face. Facebook Home looks like an “always-on” app; it could run in the background constantly. When traveling or simply commuting, you don’t always have access to a data connection, so what will Facebook Home do in those situations? Will it just say “No Connection” like it does when trying to refresh the app while having no data?

Facebook Home isn’t anything amazing and it’s difficult to get excited about a launcher that removes one of the best features of the Android OS – customization.

I’ve tested various Android launchers as well as used HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz Nature UI skins. All of those skins still allow you to customize your home screens with specific apps and widgets. From what we’ve seen, Facebook Home is like iOS. It’s almost like an operating system that allows for little customization and forces you to “accept” a standard operating procedure.

For clarification, I use Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook Pages Manager on Android. Each app is a great tool to manage friends and various Facebook pages. But I can’t imagine sitting inside Facebook on my phone or tablet. Facebook focused on the usability of Facebook Home and in their closely monitored demo, the launcher looks sleek and polished, but Facebook hasn’t proven how well it functions in real-world situations.

Even though it’s the primary (or even only) social network for most people, why would anyone want to only accept Facebook as the first and last thing you’ll see on your device? From the screens and demos Facebook showed, notifications will feed through into the center of your screen. How will Facebook Home handle other types of notifications, and more specifically how will Facebook Home work with Google Now?

Another concern is the app launcher. In Facebook Home, there are no apps on the home screen. Instead you have to swipe vertically to open the app drawer and swipe through apps. Also, I don’t personally use Facebook Messenger as my primary messaging app, I use KakaoTalk. So instead of my current setup where it’s stored in a folder in my quick launcher, I have to open the app launcher and manually set it so it’s one of the first apps on the first app drawer page. That setup is counterintuitive because it doesn’t allow the user to customize what they do. What if I wanted to place KakaoTalk on the home screen? With Facebook Home, I can’t.

Facebook Home does something I never thought was possible on Android – it gives users fewer choices. The best features of Android are hidden behind the launcher and stunted because of the focus on Facebook content. The loss of home screen customization is a huge disappointment for advanced users, but I can see people who only use their Android devices for calling, messaging, and gaming will have no problem adding a different “shine” to their device. Facebook Home can only be installed on devices running Android 4.0 and above but technical requirements aside, I can see Facebook Home being more beneficial to Android users who are still using Android 2.3 Gingerbread who want to add something new to their aging devices.

Facebook also didn’t address security in Facebook Home. All the demos didn’t show any lockscreen security, turning on devices loaded directly into Cover Feed. How will this work with security measures on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One? It’s a major concern that Facebook failed to address. I’m actually surprised that HTC and Samsung allowed their devices to be featured because Facebook Home effectively masks Sense and TouchWiz.

During the Q & A, Facebook also revealed that ads would eventually get integrated into Cover Feed, which means that you will get a nice ad for a product or service that you could care less about while reading stories from your friends. After Google removed ad-block apps from Google Play, is the company indirectly helping Facebook monetize? You can still side-load ad-blocking apps, so how would these effect Facebook Home?

The future of Facebook Home?

There are a lot of unanswered questions about Facebook Home. The demos show the “nice” features of Facebook Home, but don’t consider the full functionality that people use their phones for. Disabling home screen customization is a big concern because you become very limited on what information you can see. It feels like Facebook designed Facebook Home with iOS as the design inspiration: limit what the user can do and focus on what Facebook wants the user to do. Facebook Home disabling customizations is something Facebook will have to address and since the launcher will get updates, it will be interesting to see further developments.

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