If you’re buying a PC, you probably know that you’re getting Microsoft Windows on it. HP, Toshiba, and other vendors all have their own pre-installed “crapware,” but Windows is Windows, no matter how many docks and dashboards it comes with.
Google’s Android operating system, on the other hand, has been taken apart and put back together again so many times that some products which use it — like Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets — barely resemble the “pure” Android found on Google’s own Nexus devices.
Facebook Home, pre-installed on the upcoming HTC First smartphone and coming soon to newer existing HTC and Samsung devices, is another case in point. But what is it, really?
Is Facebook Home just another app?
In Ellis Hamburger’s hands-on for The Verge, a Facebook rep showed how Facebook Home had an icon in the HTC First’s app drawer, meaning it can be launched just like any other app. And like the Facebook app itself, you’ll be able to install it from the Google Play app market, starting on Friday.
Not completely unprecedented
This is how other home screen replacements work on Android. Android smartphones and tablets don’t have to use the home screen that they came with; you can download “apps” like ADW Launcher from Google Play, and then when you start them they ask if you want to launch them when you press the home button. According to the Facebook rep, that’s why the Facebook Home app icon is there: so that if you download a third-party home screen replacement and decide that you want to go back, you can just by tapping on it.
Not “just” another app
While most Android home screen replacements add new features to the standard home screen experience (like spinning 3D cubes), Facebook Home is a near-complete redesign. The hands-on barely resembled the normal Android experience, at least until you launch an app. Even then, chat “heads” (icons of your Facebook friends’ faces) and notifications of Facebook updates pop up and cling to the sides of the screen while you’re in the middle of other things. Facebook Home also replaces the lock screens of the phones it’s installed on, and uses your face (or equals sign, or whatever your profile pic is) as a sort of replacement home button.
On the other hand …
Facebook Home will give the smartphones and tablets it’s installed on a Facebook-centric makeover, for better or for worse. But there are a couple more things it has in common with normal apps: It’ll collect your personal data, Google-style, and it’ll display ads eventually.