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Facebook hijacks Android user experience

Facebook Home provides overlay which replaces Google-centered homescreen and can be pre-installed by OEMs and carriers


Published: 5 April, 2013

READ MORE: Facebook | User Experience | Android

Look out Google, there is another challenger for its control of the Android user experience - Facebook. Like Amazon, Baidu and various carriers before it, the social networking giant has created an overlay for Google's OS which puts its own services at the heart of the platform, sidelining Google's own.

The new Facebook Home product sees the web giant stopping short of launching much rumored own-branded handsets and, instead, creating a more sophisticated mobile experience which will eventually run on any Android smartphone - though initially it is available for key HTC and Samsung devices.

HTC, along with Sony and some operators, has worked before on 'Facebook phones' which put the social service at the center of the homescreen, and some operators are even starting to offer special contracts which include dedicated Facebook units.

However, Home goes further than these efforts, or Facebook's current mobile app, and gives the company greater influence over the platform, without having to invest in its own operating system or hardware brand. Last year, struggling to create a viable mobile business model, the company abandoned a major push to create an HTML5 platform and developer base, saying this technology - which has the advantage of spanning different OSs and bypassing policed app stores - was not ready yet.

Home provides an overlay for Android. It is downloaded free from the Google Play store and replaces the usual homescreen with Facebook's own 'Cover Feed', centering on updates from friends. The usual homescreen, lock screen and wallpaper are all replaced. Other key functions include 'chat heads', which tie other mobile apps and messaging platforms into the Facebook service, making it the hub for all a user's communications activity - and in the process, making Google's voice, messaging and other key functions almost invisible. Google has been trying to improve its competitive position in the important social networking space since the launch of Google+.

Initially the software is available for the HTC One X and One X+, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Note II. It will also work on the forthcoming HTC One and Galaxy S4, and on more devices in the coming months. Home can also be pre-installed on phones through the Facebook Home Program, an initiative which is being supported initially by HTC and AT&T, The former will deliver the HTC First on April 12.

"You can see how Home takes over the phone, and you see more and more of what Facebook wants you to see and less and less of what Google wants you to see," Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, told CNet.

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