Facebook to reveal New Home on Android, here's what to expect

Facebook is yet to formally and officially announce what it has in store for its New Home on Android event, but that hasn't stopped the leaks, rumours and speculation building in anticipation.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, has always said that "every phone is a Facebook phone" and that building a phone has "always been the wrong strategy" for Facebook.

More recently, Zuckerberg said: "Let’s say we build a phone. We’re not, but if we did, we could maybe get 10 to 20 million people to use it… It doesn’t move the needle for us." But that could be about to change, with rumours pointing to a two-pronged attack from the company on both the software and hardware fronts.

HTC First

Rumours of a Facebook phone appeared in 2012, with leaks focusing around the fact that any hardware would be made by HTC.

That in itself isn't surprising, given that HTC built its foundation on manufacturing phones for other people, such as Orange in the UK, and has made Facebook-focused phones in the past like the ill-fated HTC ChaCha and HTC Salsa. Each had a dedicated Facebook hardware button.

Previous HTC phones have had a dedicated Facebook button

Within the past 6 months, a number of codenames have been bandied around including HTC Opera UL, HTC Myst and, more recently, HTC First.

First, the more plausable name for the final device, evokes the idea that you’ll be the first of your friends to spot all the activity going down on Facebook. You'll be on the pulse.

The HTC First, if the photos are to be believed, looks like the iPhone 3G

While the device has been known via several different monikers, the specs have roughly remained the same, with the latest guesswork suggesting the First will feature a 4.3-inch 720p screen, 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel camera and the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor. That device, whatever it will be called, has already rolled through the FCC with AT&T bands (which should mean it will work globally) while other carriers, like Verizon, are currently unknown.

The specs might not blow you away, slipping towards the mid-range of Android devices, but any Facebook phone will be about the experience rather than competing for flagship status.

Alleged pictures of the device from the Twitter account @evleaks, which has a solid record in distributing press shots before they are officially announced, seems to confirm all the above.

If it's right, we'll get three colours (red, white and blue) and a phone that doesn't look too dissimilar to the iPhone 3G.

It is unlikely to be a premium smartphone to take on the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z or iPhone 5, but as we said, it's going to be about the experience, and restrained hardware specs would result in a more-affordable handset.

Facebook on Android

The name "New Home on Android" explains a lot. Facebook has been on Android for a long time, but the experience has often been derided. The name also tells us that creating something more immersive on Windows Phone, or a customised user interface for the iPhone and iPad isn't going to happen. Well, not today at least.

Furthermore, the idea that Facebook could team up with the plethora of other "mobile operating systems" is a daft suggestion. Firefox, Tizen and Ubuntu might be jostling for market space, but penetration, app support and other factors all rule them out straight away.

As Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire, Facebook clearly sees a benefit in creating a viable alternative to Google's standard Android experience, but one that still benefits from all the work Google, and the hundreds of thousands of app developers, have done with it.

The move also means that Facebook has a lot greater flexibility for creating an enhanced app for all Android users looking to turn their Facebook phone (SGS3, HTC One X, etc) into an even greater Facebook phone.

While a single hardware device will allow it to champion and build a dedicated following, having the ability to be on millions of phones very quickly is a clever move.

Again, rumours and leaks have suggested that Facebook is planning a dedicated homepage and menu system to highlight and promote Facebook services and apps. The images, again coming from @evleaks, show a skinned version of Android.

Skinning Android is nothing new and something that is done by all the major manufacturers. According to the leaked images, Facebook Home looks quite clean, bringing a lot of full-screen photography to the user interface. The ability to launch Facebook apps like Instagram, Messenger and more is present throughout the menus. 

The pieces start coming together

Whether or not Facebook launches a new skin for Android or a complete hardware and software solution, the social network already has a number of elements that go towards building what users want on their phone.

At the top of that pile there is the Facebook app itself, your social updater letting you know what the people in your life are doing. Then there are the contacts book, email address and search facilities, so you can search all the stuff you have.

Going beyond what you would class as core Facebook features, you get the Facebook Messenger app that can replace SMS, there is now in-app calling so you can phone friends within Facebook, and Instagram can replace your camera app. All of this already exists, now could be the time to fuse it into one integrated Facebook experience.

There are holes, of course: Facebook doesn’t yet have a "decent" email client, it probably wishes it had bought Mailbox or Sparrow, but that could be something for the future. It has issued its users with an email address at least.

Android allows it to fill all these gaps as well as providing a framework for expansion. The key thing is that Facebook needs to surpass the Android experience, rather than just provide an alternative, to really sell any hardware device.

Why now?

"Mobile First" is the company's mantra with the explosion of growth coming through at lightning speed. We've just had search, we are getting app updates on a more regular basis, and new data from independent sources suggests that an increasing number of people are spending more and more time on Facebook mobile, rather than on the desktop.

According to Flurry, an app analytics firm: "Consumers are spending an average of nearly 30 minutes per day on Facebook. Add to that Facebook's massive reach, as well as their roughly billion mobile users per month and you have a sizable mobile black hole sucking up people's time.

"The 30 minutes a day is a worldwide average which means a large group spends even more time on Facebook (possibly hours) watching and participating in what has become the ultimate reality show in which the actors are you and your friends."

In broader terms, Flurry believes that Facebook accounts for 18 per cent of people's time on the internet on a mobile device.

If you've got more people using Facebook on the go, and they are living a more enriched experience, you own those people's "user journey" better, and more importantly for Facebook, which is trying to grow profits, it has a stronger chance of monetising them better.

Just the beginning

Whatever we see at the company's event on Thursday (6pm UK time), we can tell from the rumours that it will be just the beginning, the first building blocks to something much bigger. It's an approach that the company has always taken, whether it's search, photos, messaging, privacy or even the entire site itself.

If, 10 years ago you had asked Zuckerberg whether he thought TheFacebook.com would grow into what it has become, we are sure he would reply with something along the lines of "you have to start somewhere".

The event

Pocket-lint will be covering the New Home on Android event on Thursday 4 April, bringing you all the latest as it happens. The event kicks off around 6pm GMT, 1pm EST and 10am PST.