Facebook unveils new Android-powered smartphone interface


Facebook is to rollout a new overlay for the Android operating system from 12 April, which it claims puts users' interests not their apps at its centre.

The new interface was unveiled during an event at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters in California earlier today, presided over by the firm's CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The system, dubbed Facebook home, is designed to provide users with more "at a glance" information about their friends when they look at their devices, the company said.

"Our phones are usually designed around apps and tasks, not people, and we wanted to flip that around," explained Zuckerberg.

Navigation relies on a system of swipes and taps, while the home screen will provide users with regular updates of what their friends are up to on Facebook.

An icon featuring the user's face is located at the bottom of the screen, and holding down on this provides an option to swipe up to access their apps or swipe left to open the message pane.

Facebook Home also boasts a feature called Chat Heads that allows notifications about an incoming text message, for example, to sit on top of whatever users are looking at on the phone, meaning they won't have to open a new app to view its content.

Joey Flynn, director of product at Facebook, explained the rationale behind the feature's inclusion.

"If someone sends you a message, you have to decide to either stop what you're doing or ignore them," he said.

"This is a bad [mobile experience]...and your friends shouldn't be siloed, and this is exactly what we wanted to fix with Chat Heads."

The software will be available for Android smartphone users to download via the Google Play Store from 12 April, and a version for tablet users is due to drop in several months time.

No Facebook phone

Speculation Facebook would use the event to take the wraps off its first Facebook-branded smartphone has been building all week, with many claiming Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC had been enlisted to provide the hardware.

The speculation proved to be partially correct, with the company announcing that the HTC First will be the first smartphone to come pre-loaded with the software.

The device will be made available on 12 April in the US, with Zuckerberg listing EE and Orange and prospective European carriers for the device.

During his opening gambit, Zuckerberg moved quickly to quash speculation his firm was planning to use the event to launch its first branded smartphone.

"We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system," he said.

"Our community has more than a billion people in it...even if we built a really good phone, we might only end up giving that [great mobile experience] to around one or two per cent of our users," he added.

He also revealed the firm decided to base the system's design on the Android OS because of how open it is, which made it easier to "support the deeper Facebook integration" it required.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.