On Facebook Home

Vision is arguably the most important thing when building a product, or a company. Vision is more than knowing what you're doing. It's knowing why you're doing it. It's knowing the meaning behind it. I think vision is one of the most important qualities of successful inventors; by which I don't mean the typically connoted old man devising a devilishly bulky machine in his garage, rather the young developer and entrepreneur following his or her imaginings of a new app.

Today, Mark Zuckerberg stepped beyond being solely a proponent of Social, proving that he still has the ability to envision the future of connectivity, and that there is still the spirit of the young inventor in him. This is the impression I got, at least. Dustin Curtis shared Zuckerberg's opening words from the Facebook Home press event today, and they really do show his vision for the future: not just being connected through apps, but being connected to people. Hearing these words as the event was streamed live, I was taken aback by the newness of the concept and the simplicity of it. How could this not have been done before? It's such a fundamental concept.

Ideas like this are what I like to think of as being beyond just tackling the problem they are intended to solve; they step into the space where a higher vision influences them and drives their creation. In this way, Facebook Home stepped above the common purpose of Facebook's products; as Zuckerberg highlighted at the beginning of today's event, to "give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected". Zuckerberg said that part of us being connected is being able to see what our friends are doing when we don't have any purpose for direct interaction: when you have a spare moment, or an awkward moment, and browse through your phone for the latest updates from your friends. This is where Home comes in. It puts people in the spotlight, just waiting for you when you unlock your phone. Again, I think it's the vision of Facebook, and Mark, that allowed such a new but seemingly simple idea to prosper.

Because Facebook's vision is so strongly related to people, design is quite possibly the most important factor in their products being successful. Facebook's apps have to be incredibly simple to use, and enchanting. That Facebook recognises this is clearly shown by the fact that it is not their VPs, CFOs or even CEOs doing the bulk of the work in showing off their creations. It's their designers. Adam Mosseri and Joey Flynn, Product Designers at Facebook, both played key roles in showing off Facebook Home.

Of course, Facebook's focus on design is shown in another more obvious way: their products are beautiful. The part I'd like to talk about, though, is the work the team have done on motion and smoothing out the notorious, animation-hating Android. Facebook's work on fluidity in Home is quite obvious. Facebook build an entirely new UI layer based on physics, essentially proprietary animation and physics engine, to make everything in the app feel like it responds naturally to touch. Zuckerberg describes it as being like "system software and not just an app that you run", saying that for this there's a "higher quality bar". Just a few example of this:

When moving Chat Heads around, their is an almost elastic quality to each Head, making the flow of movement seem slicker than normal. There's even a slight bounce when the Chat Head meets the edge of the screen.

When popping open a chat, too, there's a very smooth and natural animation. The box bounces back when it is expanded, and when it's closed (with a quick swipe up, or just a tap on the Chat Head) also has a slick animation for minimising and returning to the docked state at the edge of the screen.

In the Cover Feed, when unlocking the device to either open Messenger, the previously open app, or the app drawer, the options are attracted to the profile picture almost as if it has a gravitational pull.

Those are just a few of the many little flourishes of motion that can be seen by watching the demo videos from the event - check out The Verge for the most in-depth one out there .

I'd like to reiterate: it is these seemingly unimportant features of design (not even function) that Facebook has included that make Home seem like such a revolutionary piece of software. It is by far the smoothest app I have seen on Android so far. It is un-Android-like in its very nature, but that's what I love about it.

I suppose the big question is: will I actually use it? The answer to that is complex, and probably won't be complete until I've tried it out for a few days once it launches on April 12th, but I'm happy to theorise just now.

With regards to Facebook Home itself and the Cover Feed element of the app, I'm not entirely decided. From what the demos show, it's by far the most visually pleasing launcher available for Android, but we have to remember that those are only demos, and they use content which is either manufactured for the purpose of making the app look the best it can, or is idyllic in the sense that it is a Facebook employee's feed, and they know how to make it look good. Looking over my News Feed, I can see a number - a large number - of posts that I do not want to see on my homescreen: the funny, but essentially meaningless videos acquaintances share; a family member's new cover photo, not actually a photo, a quote they seem to think is deep but isn't; a few spam messages from that person who doesn't seem to understand that no one's actually going to give them a free iPad Mini; and of course some of those beloved Sponsored posts from Facebook themselves. No, I can't see myself wanting that on my homescreen.

App Pages, while perhaps useful, aren't something I think I'll use mainly because of the design. I'm not a fan of block grey.

Notifications in Facebook Home do look nice, but you have to double-tap to open them, which isn't at all efficient, and they don't even show notifications from all apps. In fact, they hide them by covering up the statusbar; and even if it can be revealed by swiping down from the top of the screen, that's just another inefficiency I don't want to have to deal with.

That said, Chat Heads do seem to provide something new and interesting. They actually seem to be able to do what Mark and Joey talked about at the event. They bring people to the forefront of the mobile experience - they literally place them above everything else. It is, as Josh Constine put it, Facebook's "one game-changer" it introduced today. I just hope that Chat Heads will be packaged with a Messenger update - or be available without using Facebook Home as the default launcher - because they might just be worth sacrificing my homescreen for otherwise.

To conclude: Facebook Home looks beautiful and slick, and most people will love it, but I prefer a more functional homescreen, and to not be tied solely to Facebook for interacting. Chat Heads, yes. Home, no.


Reading time: 06:28 Written by Graham Macphee