Today Facebook finally took the wraps off Home, a suite of apps and a home screen replacement for Android phones. It’s not just a new UI for launching apps however; it replaces the lockscreen with Cover Feed and prioritizes updates from people instead of apps. There is a standard paginated launcher, that is always just a swipe away. But the focus is on the full-screen images that are your new welcome screen. These are status updates from friends that you can easily flip through and double tap to like when someone posts something exciting. Plain text status updates are placed over a user’s cover photo, to keep the appearance consistent with photo-centric posts.
Notifications are presented as small cards, which Facebook applies an algorithm to, in order determine the updates that are most important to you. Just like with the standard Android UI you simply swipe notifications off screen to dismiss them. But, if you want to remove all of them in one shot, you long press a single notification and the rest will be drawn to it and you’ll be able to dismiss the entire stack.
One of the most interesting new features, however, is Chat Heads. Facebook’s messaging app is tightly integrated across the platform, allowing you to quickly and easily communicate with your friends without leaving whatever app you currently have open. Chat Heads appear as circular icons on the right hand side, though you can drag them anywhere you like on the screen. Tapping them opens a pop-over chat dialog that combines IMs and text messages into a universal interface. Differentiating between chats and texts is down only to the color of chat bubbles, while messages from Groups are presented as group chats with divided icons.
Your primary method for navigating around (outside of the standard Android buttons) is a home button that sits towards the bottom of the display. The icon itself uses your profile photo and tapping it takes you back to your Home, populated with social updates. However, long pressing it presents you with a trio of options. Swipe left for messenger, swipe up for apps and swipe right to open up your latest app. It’s very much like the elegant three-way unlock screen Google blessed Jelly Bean 4.1 with (before screwing everything up with lockscreen widgets).
At first Facebook Home will only be available from the Play store on a few select phones, the Galaxy S III, S 4, the HTC One, One X+ and the Note II. But more devices are in the works — including Android tablets. If you’re looking to get your own hands-on with the new Android replacement UI it’ll be available on those phones April 12th in the US, with other countries to follow.