Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t lying all those times he insisted there is no Facebook phone. Instead, there’s Facebook Home, a piece of software for Android that puts social networking front-and-center.
How does Facebook Home work? Let’s walk through the details of what it is, and when you can actually try it yourself:
Facebook Home Is a Launcher That Works with Existing Android Phones
On Android phones, the launcher determines what your home screen, lock screen and other elements look like. All Android phones have a default launcher, but there are others you can install. For instance, you can get a launcher that gives you extra home screens, or changes the way app icons look.
Facebook Home is just another alternative launcher that you can download for free. Once installed, it changes the way your phone’s software looks and behaves. In place of a traditional lock screen, you get full-screen images from Facebook and status updates that you can swipe through, along with regular phone notifications. From there, you can jump right into Facebook Messenger, open your most recent app or view your app list. You can also post Facebook status updates, photos or check-ins directly from the app launcher.
It Runs All the Same Android Apps
Facebook isn’t doing its own app store for Home; it’s relying on Android’s existing one. You can still have Gmail, Chrome, Maps and other core Google services, and you can download more apps from Google Play, just like you can with any alternative launcher.
In other words, Facebook hasn’t done any deep modifications to Android, like Amazon did with its Kindle Fire tablets. That allows Facebook Home to run on existing phones, in addition to new phones with Home pre-installed. Think of it as a layer that runs on top of your existing Android software.
Messaging Is a Huge Focus
The other big feature in Facebook Home has the rather silly name “Chatheads.” When you receive a text message, Facebook message or group Facebook chat, a little circular icon pop ups with the sender’s face on it, along with a brief preview of the message. You can move these Chatheads around the screen, swipe them away or tap on them to open the full message.
All of this happens on top of the app you’re already in, so you don’t have to jump into a specific text or chat app to have a conversation. This could be Facebook Home’s killer feature, as it seems a lot faster and more convenient than traditional messaging.
It’ll Be Updated Every Month
Facebook says it will deliver monthly updates for Facebook Home. Eventually, Facebook plans to show advertisements somewhere within Home, and the company may also open up certain features of Home to other apps.
There’s One Facebook Phone for Now, but Maybe More Later
Although Facebook hasn’t built a phone of its own, the company has partnered with HTC to offer a phone with Facebook Home pre-installed, called the HTC First. The First launches on AT&T’s network on April 12 for $100 with a two-year contract, and will launch in other countries soon after. Other companies will be able to create phones with Facebook Home pre-installed if they choose.
Specs for the HTC First include a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch 720p display, a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 1.6-megapixel front camera. It’s a mid-range handset, but the focus is obviously the software, not the hardware.
Home Is Available April 12 for a Handful of Phones
At first, Facebook Home will only be available for the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’ll work on the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 when they arrive. More devices will be supported in the “coming months.”
To get Home, you must have the latest version of Facebook and Facebook Messenger installed. Come April 12, you’ll see a notice in the Facebook app, taking you to the download in Google Play. Installing it should leave your existing apps and data intact, and you can always uninstall it to go back to your regular Android home and lock screens.