MENLO PARK, CALIF. -- There have been countless rumors about a potential "Facebook phone" over the years, and they finally came to fruition on Thursday.
Well, sort of.
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"Today we're finally going to talk about that Facebook phone," quipped CEO Mark Zuckerberg immediately after walking out during a packed invite-only event on Thursday morning.
Zuckerberg went on to explain the inspiration behind the social network's new mobile strategy, suggesting that instead of designing phones around apps first, why not "design around people first" and then interact with the apps.
"We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system," Zuckerberg remarked. "But we're building something a whole lot deeper than just an ordinary app."
Stressing that there "is a new use case that is becoming more and more important," Zuckerberg described that Facebook wants to bring a new "home" to smartphones.
"The home screen is really the soul of your phone," Zuckerberg posited.
Enter Facebook Home, a home screen interface (or "a family of apps") that can be installed by users themselves on top of Android.
One of the core features to Facebook's Home platform is that notifications are based on people rather than apps, which immediately started drawing questions and comparisons on Twitter to Google Now and Windows Phone.
During the live demo, Adam Mosseri, Facebook's director of product, said that the purpose of Home is to shift attention away from tasks and apps to their friends instead.
But he also admitted that apps are still important. Thus, Home extends Facebook's app portfolio beyond the basic native social network and messaging apps to consist of a graphic-heavy cover feed of updates and an app launcher for bookmarking favorite apps.
One feature that particularly integrates Facebook's messaging service is Chat Heads.
Similar to Apple's iMessage for iOS devices, Chat Heads basically merges Facebook Messenger and SMS conversations for individual contacts.
In one fell swoop, Facebook has attempted to establish itself as the core messaging and communication platform on Android.
That could end up presenting serious competition not only for service providers when it comes to texting, but also Android's maker, running up against the combination of Gmail, Google Chat and Google Plus.
Slated to launch in the next week, Facebook Home for Android can be downloaded from Google Play. It will be rolling out for at least five Android smartphones first, but support on tablets won't follow for at least "several months."
Nevertheless, Facebook execs promised that new features for Home will roll out "every month."
HTC and AT&T team up on Facebook Home
Zuckerberg singled out HTC and AT&T as partners on Home, noting they have worked together to build first set of phones with Facebook Home pre-loaded.
HTC CEO Peter Chou introduced the HTC First, which he described as the "ultimate social phone" as well as a "great opportunity to bring social and mobile together."
"It will give you the best Facebook experience," Chou boasted, asserting that the HTC First is the only phone pre-loaded and optimized for Home.
AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega touted that he thinks that the HTC First offers the most engagement on a smartphone that he has ever seen.
Outfitted in four colors (black, white, red and baby blue), the HTC First runs on AT&T's 4G LTE network. It will retail for $99.99 with a two-year service agreement when it goes on sale on April 12. Pre-orders open up today.
"At one level, this is just the next mobile version of Facebook," Zuckerberg concluding, adding that at a deeper level, he suggested it's possible this will change the relationship we have with computing devices in our lives overall.
"We're about to see the most empowered generation of people in history," Zuckerberg said. "It's a deeply technical problem, but it's also a deeply social problem."
Image Credits: James Martin, CNET
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