Facebook unveils Home for Android mobile gadgets

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The HTC First, which will be released April 12, will have the new Facebook Home Android software pre-loaded.  MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The HTC First, which will be released April 12, will have the new Facebook Home Android software pre-loaded.

MENLO PARK, Calif. — With its new Home on Android gadgets, Facebook aims to make its social network the hub of people’s mobile experiences. The question is whether people want all their Facebook content greeting them every time they look at their phones.

If users download Facebook’s Home software starting April 12, Facebook will become the center of their Android smartphones. Switch on your phone and you’ll see friends’ photos, overlaid by status updates, links and eventually, ads. If a friend sends you a message, his Facebook photo will pop up as a notification.

Done with Facebook? Swipe your finger to get to a screen with your regular Android apps to listen to music, watch videos or send e-mail.

At first, Home will work on only some Android devices, including HTC’s One X and One X Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2.

A phone from HTC that comes pre-loaded with Home will be available starting April 12, with AT&T as the carrier.

The idea behind the software is to bring Facebook content right to users’ home screens, rather than requiring them to check various apps to see what their friends are up to, or to chat.

Down the line, Facebook will integrate its camera app and other features. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised the Home software will be updated at least once a month to add more features and fix bugs.

Of Facebook’s 1.06 billion monthly users, 680 million log in using a mobile gadget. As a result, the money it makes from mobile advertising is also growing.

Recognizing that text messaging is one of the most important tasks on a phone, Facebook showed off a Home feature
called “chat heads.” This lets users communicate with their friends directly from their home screens – without opening a separate app.

The new Home software won’t be available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices.

Apple’s iOS and Mac operating systems include features that integrate Facebook’s services, but Zuckerberg said doing something like Home would require a closer partnership.

Apple had no immediate comment.

For Google, the announcement isn’t great news. The company gives away its Android software for free, in the hope that it will steer phone users to ads Google sells. With Home, Facebook is inserting itself between users and Google, diverting them to its own ads and services. It’s not the first time a big Internet company has co-opted Android: Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire tablets run a version of Android that strips out all Google services, replacing them with Amazon’s equivalents.

The deeper mobile integration will help Facebook to attract more mobile advertisers. Though mobile ads were a big concern for Facebook’s investors even before the company’s initial public offering last May, some of the worry is subsiding as the company muscles its way into the market.

Last year, Facebook began showing ads to its mobile audience by shoehorning corporate-sponsored content into users’ news feeds, which also include updates from friends and brands they follow. Facebook now faces the challenge of showing people mobile ads without annoying or alienating them.

At this early stage, advertisements are not part of Facebook’s Home. Ads “are something we look forward to doing a great job with,” said Cory Ondrejka, director of mobile engineering.

He said Facebook won’t start showing ads “until we are sure we got it right.”

That time will certainly come. The mobile advertising market is growing quickly, thanks in large part to Facebook and Twitter, which also entered the space in 2012. Research firm eMarketer expects U.S. mobile ad spending to grow 77 percent this year to $7.29 billion, from $4.11 billion last year.

Facebook, meanwhile, is expected to earn $1.53 billion in worldwide mobile ad revenue this year according to eMarketer, up from $470.7 million last year.


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