Facebook moves to home screens of Android phones

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook is unveiling a new experience for Android phones. The idea behind the new Home service is to bring content right to you, on the phone’s home screen, rather than require you to check apps on the device.

The event comes amid rapid growth in the number of people who access Facebook from smartphones and tablet computers. More Android integration could help Facebook Inc. attract more mobile advertisers. Though mobile ads were a big concern for Facebook’s investors even before the company’s initial public offering last May, some of the worry has subsided as the company muscles its way into the market.

Last year, Facebook began showing ads to its mobile audience by shoehorning corporate-sponsored content into users’ news feeds, which also include updates from friends and brands they follow. Facebook now faces the challenge of showing people mobile ads without annoying or alienating them.

Facebook’s event was being held at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Here’s a running account of Facebook’s event, presented in reverse chronological order. All times are PDT. Presenters include CEO Mark Zuckerberg; Adam Mosseri, director of products; Joey Flynn, product designer. Also appearing were HTC’s CEO and AT&T’s head of wireless. A question-and-answer session followed the main presentation, which lasted about 45 minutes.

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11:30 a.m.

Here’s a list of phones that will be able to run Home at first: HTC’s One X and One X Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2. The upcoming HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV will also be able to run Home. HTC’s First will have it already installed.

Facebook says it hopes to extend that to other phones later.

Gartner analyst Brian Blau says he’s impressed with Facebook’s commitment to update Home once a month with additional features. He says Home “could be a game changer if you are a heavy Facebook user.”

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11:15 a.m.

More details are emerging on the new HTC phone. Called First, it will run on Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. It will come with the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram already installed. Cost is $100 with a two-year service agreement. The new device will have a screen that measures 4.3 inches diagonally.

The April 12 sale date happens to be when the iPhone 5 becomes available through T-Mobile.

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11:05 a.m.

Home will be limited to phones running the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions of Android. That’s version 4.0 and later. That covers phones made or updated over the past year or so.

Initially, the app will be limited to specific Android models — about a half-dozen of them, including Samsung Electronic Co.’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2. It will also work on the upcoming Galaxy S IV. In addition, HTC Corp.’s upcoming First phone will come with Home.

It’s not immediately clear what happens if you have Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean but not one of the models listed.

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11 a.m.

Mosseri says ads will eventually come to this new service. It will be interspersed among the items displayed on the home screen, the way Facebook now injects ads into the main news feed showing friends’ photos, links and other posts. But in this case, the ads will take up the entire display.

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10:55 a.m.

The new Home service won’t be available on Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Apple’s iOS and Mac operating systems include features that integrate Facebook’s services, but Zuckerberg says doing something like Home would require a closer partnership.

By contrast, Google makes its Android operating system available on an open-source basis, free for anyone to modify, so it’s easier to make changes. That said, Facebook makes it clear it’s not making a new version of Android, a practice known as forking. Home is being built on top of Android.

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10:50 a.m.

Minutes after the event ends, Facebook’s stock is up 74 cents, or 2.8 percent, at $26.99.

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10:45 a.m.

Zuckerberg closes the event by expressing his vision of the future, one where people have smartphones and tablet computers rather than desktops and laptops. He says there will be people who have never seen what we call computers these days.

He says Home feeds into that vision.

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10:40 a.m.

While people will be able to install Home themselves, some phone makers will build Home into the phones. HTC Corp. is releasing a phone called First. It will come in four colors — red, light blue, white and black. It will run on AT&T Inc.’s 4G LTE cellular network and go on sale April 12 for $100, with advance orders to begin Thursday. A two-year service agreement is required.

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10:35 a.m.

To get Home, simply go to Google’s online Play store when it’s available. Those with Facebook apps on the phone already will get a prompt to download it. The software will be updated with new features monthly.

It will be available April 12 on certain phones initially.

Facebook isn’t making Home for tablet devices for several months, though.

Zuckerberg tells the audience, “We are really proud of Home and we are excited to get (it) into your hands. We think this is the best version of Facebook there is.”

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10:30 a.m.

Flynn unveils a feature called chat heads. The idea is to let you communicate with your friends from that home screen, without needing to open an app. You can chat with multiple people at once that way.

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10:25 a.m.

Mosseri describes one of the main features of the new service. It’s called cover feed.

He notes that when people look at their phones now, they typically see a clock and perhaps the snippet of an email. That will change if you have the Home service activated. As soon as you turn on your phone, you’ll see photos. You can swipe from one to the next from the home screen.

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10:20 a.m.

The new service is called Home. Pictures from your Facebook news feed would take up the entire display screen. Zuckerberg says you’ll be seeing the world through people rather than apps.

He gives an example of standing in line at a store and looking down at the phone to see photos of friends and family. It’ll be possible to flip through the items. If there’s something you like, just double tap on it to “like” it. You can also add comments from the home screen.

With this, Facebook doesn’t believe you’ll need to go to the Facebook app any more.

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10:15 a.m.

Zuckerberg says Facebook isn’t building a Facebook phone, saying a Facebook-centered device might sell 10 million to 20 million units at best. Rather, it’s building on the existing Android system to bring this experience to a wider group of Android users.

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10:10 a.m.

Zuckerberg talks about a new way to approach Facebook on phones.

He asks, “Why do we need to go into all the apps in the first place to see what is going on with the people we care about?” Better, he says, is to have that experience come right to the home screen, so you’re always knowing what is going on around you.

He makes a comparison to the company’s news feed feature, which brought friends’ posts to a centralized place and reduced the need for people to check their friends’ profile pages one by one.

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10:05 a.m.

Zuckerberg walks on stage and addresses the rumors head on: “Today, we’re finally going to talk about that Facebook phone.”

He then adds that more specifically, Facebook will talk about turning the Android phone into a simple, social device.

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