MENLO PARK, CA - The long-rumored "Facebook phone" is closer to becoming a reality, after the social network on Thursday unveiled Facebook Home, a custom homescreen for Android smartphones.
Facebook Home integrates all of the social network's services into the operating system of Android phones. Instead of having to download and call upon apps to get to services such as Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook Camera, access to those features is simply baked into Facebook Home. After a user downloads Facebook Home to an Android phone, all those services become available from virtually anywhere in the device.
One example is a change in how messaging works. The Home user interface pops up messages on top of any app without taking you out of that app. That's something that isn't really possible on any current smartphone.
Home emphasizes visuals. When you wake up a phone running Facebook Home from sleep, a feature called Cover Feed appears, allowing you to move through links, photos, and status updates.
Notifications -- the kind that cause the red flags to pop up on Facebook.com -- sit on top of Cover Feed. That feature allows you to access the "important" stuff, as Facebook puts it. At the bottom of the screen is a single button that, when pressed, provides quick access to the apps menu, Facebook Messenger, and your last-used app.
In the past, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly denied working on any sort of a Facebook phone. In a press conference Thursday, Zuckerberg reiterated that strategy, saying even a "great phone" could likely only sell up to 20 million units, reaching just 2% of the company's 1 billion active users.
That's why Facebook opted instead to push out software that isn't really a Facebook phone -- the software is just a "skin" on Google's Android mobile operating system.