Facebook Home first impressions – should iOS users care?

Jonathan Nalder
5 May, 2013
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What is Facebook Home? Seeing as it’s Android only, you may have skipped over the numerous stories of the last couple of weeks about Facebook’s new move into mobile software that goes beyond just being an ‘app’.

Rather than just being an app you launch when you have a Facebook itch to scratch, Facebook Home takes over the lock-screen and home-screen of Android devices and displays a slideshow of your timeline rather than the Android OS that was there before. You can just leave it on display and glance at different posts as they drift by or swipe to manually flick through them. Beyond this, most actions actually kick you back to the standard Facebook and Messenger apps. You can move from the slideshow to an app shortcut screen that also has status and photo buttons – though why these aren’t on the main screen, I don’t know.

One new innovation is the ‘chat-head’ bubbles that pop up over the main screen when you receive a Facebook message. These do provide an enhanced entry point to this kind of communication – if you are a Facebook Message user. If not, you may never see them. Standard notifications pop up in a far less sexy rectangle center-screen that could benefit from some chat-head rethinking in my opinion.

Home is perhaps aimed much more at carving out additional influence on Android than iOS anyway, where Apple has already integrated Facebook into the operating system itself. I appreciate this every time I want to authorise a new service (like Osito – the Google Now for iOS available on the US App Store) and don’t have to enter the strong but un-rememberable password I use for Facebook. Fellow Mac news site Cult of Mac has reported that Apple and Facebook are in ongoing talks to bring Facebook Home to iOS though, so who knows.

So should iOS users care?

Well, going by the ratings of over 10,000 people so far, perhaps not. What’s that – you see that the Play Store is saying Facebook Home is incompatible with my Nexus 7 testbed device? Well, lets just say that this is the internet age and most things are possible. Paul O’Brian has released patched files for all to enjoy at http://www.modaco.com/topic/361924-facebook-home-download-including-patched-apk-version/.

After following Paul’s instructions, here are some of my first impressions after a few days of occasionally bothering to charge my Nexus 7 up (it goes flat after about 2 days whether used or not) and leaving Facebook Home to run:

The good:

Perhaps what I like best about Home is its simplicity. This is a quality often ascribed to Apple – but Facebook here have also done a good job of shipping a stripped down product that does a few things (such as putting your timeline and interactions front and center) really well. It is a nice experience to leave your device on a stand and have friends activities and posts slide by. You can then glance up and tap to see more or not.

The improveable:

What Facebook needs to next however is improve the experience after you tap to actually start doing something. Many activities will immediately send you out of the nice full-screen Facebook Home environment back to the old app. Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook’s apps are well designed – but the UI jump is a jarring one. Even the actions you can take from within Home such as the most basic one of all, creating a new post,  is hidden a screen away. You access it by dragging your user icon to go to the app quick-launcher – a good solution for making apps available – but is Facebook saying that posting a status is only as important as launching an app that will quit me out of Home? The status update button should be on the main slideshow screen.

Another downside to the slideshow-only mode of viewing your timeline is if you want to view one particular post you must swipe and swipe until you get back to it – a simple grid view button that displays thumbnails of say the last 20 posts would be an easy way to improve this situation. But then again, it’s obvious that Facebook has chosen to keep extra buttons off the main screen for simplicity. Just having extra options when one drags the user icon such as ‘status’ and ‘grid’ could solve this however.

I also find the portrait-only mode annoying – I mean Facebook Home uses your friends photos to make the main screen look good – but most of those shots are taken in landscape…

The bad:

There have been reports (even in the Play Store reviews) of people experience higher than normal battery drain while running Facebook Home, although any app that is loading new data constantly and keeping the screen on is bound to do that. What’s more unsettling is the privacy implications of a launcher that displays your whole timeline to anyone who walks by – even if the device is locked. Left your phone on the desk for a moment? Any nosy-neighbour can swipe through your timeline, post a status or even launch apps whether your device is locked or not. Hmmm…

Some have also complained that it takes over your device too much – but I found that using the option in Android that allows me to choose my launcher whenever I hit the home button erased this as an issue. I do have the luxury of running it on a secondary device however. If I had to run Home on my primary device the single-environment philosophy it employs would be too much even for this launcher solution.

In conclusion, yes, having this running constantly would definitely increase my use of Facebook and interaction with my friends. As I keep Facebook purely for close friends and family, this is surely a good thing, as well as being obviously what Facebook is aiming for. I see no reason why Facebook can’t just build the Home experience into an iOS app and make it an optional view for those times when you might choose it as your ‘device idle’ sleep mode. Or perhaps Apple will add an OS X-like screen-saver mode with Home as an option…

I’m actually now wishing that other news/social apps had versions. Surely someone will build a copy that combines Facebook posts with Twitter and all the other common networks and news sites – this would help get around the way Home keeps your screen all to itself, while extending the good, simple design features to advantage a larger selection of our online interactions.

Anyone else had go? What are your impressions?

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