Facebook yesterday announced their "Home on Android," or a new blanket layer over the standard Google Android UI, called Facebook Home. The biggest features of Facebook Home are Cover Feed and Chat Heads. Cover Feed overhauls your lock screen to show you items from your Facebook Newsfeed. This means you don't even have to unlock your phone to see what's going on on Facebook. Incidentally, it also means that no one else needs to unlock your phone to see your Newsfeed, either. Chat Heads, the other big feature, are a group of circles with your friend's profile pictures in them which float in the corner of your screen no matter what app you're in. Chat Heads are basically windows into your chat and messaging world on Facebook. When you get a new message or someone starts chatting with you, their Chat Head cycles to the top and you can read and respond to their message right there, without leaving the app you're in.
I haven't actually used it myself of course, and I don't use Android so I probably won't for a while, but I'm not really concerned, because Facebook Home sounds like something I'm going to hate. A lot.
Facebook Home, in terms of UI, is stunningly beautiful. I'm actually very impressed with it. It looks a lot better than the normal Android system, and from what I hear, it works really smoothly as well. But the problem is that Facebook is not as beautiful for normal people as it is portrayed as being by Facebook itself.
Facebook’s images are stunning, but how does your lock screen look when it’s actually a stream of oversaturated Instagram photos and out-of-focus baby pictures? Or worse? As of this writing, the first thing in my News Feed is an image of a friend who used AMC’s "Dead Yourself" app to mutilate her face — a grotesque sight. The next photo is a group of friends in bikinis on spring break. The third is a friend’s selfie. When you install Facebook Home (or buy an HTC First), your homescreen will be whatever your friends are posting, no matter how good, bad, or downright terrible. When you press the sleep button to unlock your device, these are the kinds of images that will come to life on-screen.
If Facebook wants Home to really take off, it needs to realize that we don’t live in a world as beautiful as its marketing campaigns. It could limit "Cover Feed" posts to those only from your closest friends, or it could selectively analyze photos for quality content tagged to popular locations. Until then, I foresee many jokes that start something like this: "Dude, why do you have a salad on your lock screen?"
If you follow me on App.net, or know me personally, you probably know that I am extremely obsessive about my home screen and lock screen, perhaps a bit overly so. I keep them both looking good with really nice photos or other simple items. I never have pictures of people on my lock screen. If I had to look at my lock screen every day and see all the obnoxiously terrible pictures that my Facebook friends have posted, I would probably get really annoyed.
That’s exactly why I described Facebook Home as a “nicely-designed phone interface that I would personally never want to use”. I don’t want photos from other people on my lock screen or as my home screen wallpaper. But given that they’re putting it into the Play Store, Facebook obviously thinks many people do want this. We shall see.
As for Chat Heads, those would annoy me even more. But I'm probably not the type of user they're aiming for. I actually use my iPhone for productive things almost all the time. I write and test URL actions on it, beta test apps, read news, check email, and much more. I already find it distracting enough when I receive short notifications for texts and other media coming to me while I'm doing more important things, how would I ever be ale to work if all those messages were floating at the corner of my screen at all times? If the heads of my friends keep jumping on top of each other in a crazy game of leap frog, vying for my attention and pulling it away from what I'm actually wanting to do? Sure, I'm probably in a minority for people who do actual work on their cell phones, but Facebook Home says it will be coming to Android tablets soon as well! Do you expect to be able to read a book or concentrate on important work on your tablet while levitating heads are bouncing around in the corner? I know I would find that distracting.
Here's the thing about apps, and on a larger scale, technology that people love - no matter how much someone is into something, they don't want it thrust in their face 24/7.
It's why Gmail chat has an invisible mode. It's why iOS 6 has a "Do not disturb" mode. It's why people put their phones on silent. It's why people sometimes turn off Facebook Chat for good.
Yes, people want to feel connected, but they want to feel connected on their own terms.
With Facebook Home, it's the Facebook newsfeed 24/7.
I for one am very happy that it's unlikely Facebook Home will ever come to iPhone or iPad. It would be an end to the high level of productivity that I very much enjoy having when using my iOS devices, it would be an end to my pretty lock screens, an end to the lack of ads on my devices, and even an end to the fairly high level of privacy that an iPhone and iPad provides. I won't go into that, but Om Malik wrote a lot about the privacy concerns brought about by Facebook Home over at Gigaom.