At Home with Facebook Home

I took a so-called “stay-cation” last week to work on the house. I also spent a bit of time playing with Facebook Home on my HTC One X. I was excited to try it, because the prospect of adding a layer of elegance on top of my One X, which is awkward in just about every way, was very appealing.

Facebook Home delivers on that promise, if not completely then at least on a few levels. Installation was painless, and the immediate experience of running what essentially amounts to a Facebook-fueled screen saver on my phone’s home screen is a powerful emotional moment. I found myself getting pulled into Home often, flipping through many more status updates than I normally do on Facebook’s Web site. Its full-screen pictures are truly beautiful; Facebook’s engineers and designers have pulled off some fancy trickery that makes just about every image — and every status update comes with an image — look great.

Thinner, Better

You might think of Home as a ‘thin’ version of Facebook, a slimmed down counterpart to the full site that has been gracefully translated for handheld devices. In fact, if Facebook were only this — just a simple way to keep up with what my friends are doing, without all the rigamarole of walls and likes and pokes and pages and the endless array of what feels like tedium and busywork — I would like it a lot more.

Neat as it is, this is basically all that Home amounts to, as there’s not much else. Unless you’re an avid user of Facebook chat (I’m not but I guess some people are) Chatheads is a nice implementation of a feature that’s more or less fine but not particularly remarkable. Home’s alternative launch screen is a modest improvement, but not so much so that it represents a clear win over the incumbent launch interface. Similarly, Home’s method of dragging your own picture to access apps (which I found to be consistently and metaphorically confusing) is the kind of detail that Apple or even Google would tend to not even bother announcing.

So even as I praise Facebook Home for being lean, I guess I was expecting a lot more. It’s true that the company never promised that it would be a replacement for Android, so I suppose there’s no justification in lamenting that it’s not. But I had expected Home to open up new vistas on my HTC One X; the reality is that it’s just papering over the view that was already there. Of course, it may very well turn into something more ambitious in time — in fact, I would be surprised if it doesn’t — but for now, as far as breakthrough software goes, I find it to be a really nice screen saver.

A screen saver with some weird glitches, it should be said. Swiping through status updates is buttery smooth, but any time you have to exit the app, the brittleness of imposing a layer on top of Android becomes apparent — the screen blacks out momentarily, or Home fully crashes as often as not, at least in my experience. The interface for unlocking your phone is still the stock Android interface, too, which breaks the spell of Home’s elegance a bit. I also found myself confused by what Home considers secure — even if my phone was ostensibly locked, anyone could pick it up and post a status update at will, without having to get past my PIN screen. It all made me regret my initially optimistic anticipation of the product. Home has a ways to go, yet.


One Comment

  1. Shame you don’t use Facebook so much; would be interested to hear your thoughts on the development of their UI and general aesthetics over the last couple of years — I’m very much liking the work that Mike Matas, Nicholas Felton and the rest of the team have done.

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