April 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm

The Facebook Phone: In-App Chat, Easier Music Sharing

The Facebook phone is here, sort of.

Mark Zuckerberg announced in a livestreamed event today that the HTC First ($100, AT&T) will be the first in a series of Facebook Home phones starting April 12, from partners including AT&T, Alcatel, EE, HTC, HTC, Huawei, Orange, Samsung, OneTouch, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Sony, and ZTE. In other words, it will be a lot of phones, rather than just one. Not only that, but owners of the above Androids can install Facebook Home without buying a new phone.

The Facebook phone runs the regular Android operating system, rather than a Facebook-specific version. Facebook defends that choice there by saying it didn’t want to “fork” Android development off in a new direction. However, when you unlock a Facebook Home phone, the first thing you’ll see will be Facebook instead of the usual Lock screen — and you might just stay there, given the way Facebook integrates with so many of the other apps.

The “Facebook Home Phone” (E.T., Drew Barrymore, and Henry Thomas are confused), will differ from other Androids, in that it’ll let people pop up and chat with you as you’re in apps. Say you’re listening to Spotify. Now, you’ll be able to see when someone chats with you right within that app — as in their fricking head will actually pop up on your screen, so you can switch to the chat with that person, without leaving whatever you were doing. This could make you more likely to share what you’re listening to with that person, as well as making it easier to see what others are listening to, and both of those factors could provide a big boost to just about every music streaming and on-demand service in existence, should the Facebook Home Program be a hit.

On Apple phones, only Apple controls stuff like the ability for one app to “pop in” to another app (they do let developers send you push notification, but those aren’t interactive). Android leaves the barn door wide open, which is why Facebook was able to build Facebook Home as the new front page, essentially, of your phone, and why Facebook Home chat popups can strike anywhere, in any other app.

Zuckerberg said today that as of April 12, any U.S.-based Android user with an “HTC One, One X, Samsung Galaxy S3, [or] Note 2″ will be able to install Facebook Home.

From a music perspective, the big deal here looks to be the removal of friction between listening to something and sharing it with someone, because Facebook will be the main place where you “hang out” on that phone. You’ll be able to see what everyone else is listening to right there, as well as, we assume (as we must before we get a look at this thing) sharing songs in the chats that pop up within apps. At the very least, though, you’ll be able to notice that someone is listening to something, and go check out the song yourself, more seamlessly than on other phone platforms.

It’s a subtle shift, but an important one, Zuckerberg’s idea to put people (via Facebook, of course) at the center of the mobile experience and apps on the periphery, rather than the other way around, or leaving apps in one pile and people in another. Facebook is hoping to eradicate some of the silos that isolate people within their activities/apps, and that’s an admirable move (though some might prefer that things like this get left to standard protocols or open-source operating systems rather than to a single publicly-traded company).

Facebook Home Phones might not be enough to help E.T. phone home, but it should make it easier for him to catch up on what his friends are listening to, at least.

(Facebook’s slide via TechCrunch)