If you really love Facebook on your smartphone, today is a big day for you. Facebook Home – the social giant’s new skin for Android – launches today. Facebook also has a dedicated phone running home, the HTC First, which is now available at AT&T stores. Are you so addicted to the world’s largest social network that you would turn your phone into a Facebook-centric love fest?
Are there any other services that you cannot live without where you would want your smartphone to be all in all the time with it? For instance, would you want an Instagram Phone? Maybe a Spotify Phone? Twitter Phone? Or maybe it would be an Amazon Phone? All of these companies could do what Facebook has done and create a launcher skin that lays on top of Android and give their service the front-and-center treatment.
If you could have any skin you wanted on a smartphone, what would it be? That is the topic of this week’s ReadWrite Mobile poll.
What Facebook Home Does
The HTC First – also known as the “Facebook Phone” – is really just an Android with an application layer that gives the user the option to use Facebook as its application “launcher.” That is Facebook Home. A launcher is the user interface that companies use to differentiate experiences on Android. For instance, Samsung’s “TouchWiz” is technically a launcher. So is HTC’s “Sense.” In fact, if we really want to get into it, the stock Android user interface that can be found in Google Nexus devices is technically its own launcher as well. Another term for launcher is “skin.”
On the HTC First, if you do not want to use Facebook Home, you can strip it away and the launcher left underneath is just plain Android.
When you turn on a device with Facebook Home, you get a screen that slowly scrolls through your Facebook newsfeed. This is called Cover feed, where you can swipe to see recent updates from Facebook. If you get a message from Facebook Messenger, your friend’s head will pop up on the screen, no matter what app you are using. You can toss the head around the screen, then throw it out on the bottom when the conversation is done. This is known as ChatHeads and it is oddly pleasing, in a weird, sadistic type of way.
The launcher will allow you to open any apps that you have downloaded through Google Play. The app drawer accessible through Home is essentially the portal between Facebook’s custom user interface layered on top of Android and Android itself.
That’s it. Facebook Home is not complicated (though it can be a little confusing going between the Home experience and Android). It is sleek, kind of fun and really delivers exactly what it sets out to do – make your smartphone all Facebook, all the time.
Opportunity For Everybody
Because Home is so simple at its base level, Facebook has essentially created the blueprint for any company to do the exact same thing to Android. Facebook does have a bit of an advantage because it has a variety of services it can bake into Home (like Messages, Camera, Newsfeed, Pages and so forth), but the basic principle is easy to replicate.
There are several third-party launchers for Android available through Google Play. There is the ADWLauncher, GO Launcher, Launcher Pro, Regina 3D Launcher, Crazy Home, Zeam Launcher and an endless count of others. These all provide interesting user interfaces for Android but none are really tied to a specific service.
For instance, Twitter could probably make a great launcher for Android. The micro-blogging service is transforming from a straight message platform to get into the TV space, the music space and direct people to apps and media through its new Cards feature that it is rolling out. We call this Portal 2.0 and it would look great as a central user interface to a smartphone.
Amazon could easily do the same thing. The e-commerce king has the transactional elements to turn your smartphone into a buying machine while also serving up music, video and apps. An Amazon Android phone has long been rumored to be in the works. Amazon is likely more interested in forking Android (creating its own build based on the source code that Google releases) than just layering its own functionality on top the way Facebook has. That is, after all, what it did for the Kindle Fire device.
Instagram? Why not. It doesn’t have the apps and media, but it can use Android for that and have deep Facebook integration anyway (it is owned by Facebook). And you could have all those pretty Instagram pictures scrolling as your home screen.
The possibilities are basically endless. Heck, even Apple could create a launcher for Apple based on iOS features. Are custom-built launchers from prominent third parties something that users want? You tell us. Take the poll and let us know in the comments how you would skin and Android to make it the perfect device for you.