Many of you will already be familiar with the phrase 'It's so bad, it's good.' Consider Facebook Home to be something like that.
Sure, it's a brave effort and not many companies will be willing to take the risk that Facebook has with this. But there's not so much as a fine line, but a highway running between utility and gimmick. And Home veers dangerously into the latter's territory. But I sincerely hope that someone at Menlo Park is reading this, because boys and girls, there's a lot to be fixed.
If you want to put it crudely, Home is just another Android launcher, the difference being that it latches onto your Facebook account and delivers your News Feed in a visually-impressive manner. Now that sounds great, but in practice it's painful, buggy and most of all, doesn't allow you to do much with your smartphone. Let's look at the good and the bad.
Home starts with your Cover Feed, which is a visual carousel of all the niceties on your News Feed. When Cover Feed shows up, your Facebook profile picture also appears inside a bubble. This is your gateway to the apps and Messenger.
Photos, status updates, links and other posts all show up randomly and float by your screen like a slow river. It's a great idea and one that borrows from the Live Tiles of Windows Phone 8 and the movement of pictures within each post makes it look like the Windows Phone 8's Photos Live Tile, except one which takes up your entire screen.
Browsing through the various updates makes your profile bubble disappear allowing you to view everything in its entirety. By default, all pictures that show up on your Cover Feed are heavily-cropped. That includes cover photos that take up the background on status updates or the actual photos that your friends put up. A long-press on any photo gives you the entire picture without the text overlaid on it. It's a nice way to see the picture, but what exactly is the benefit here?
All the apps along with the 'More...' icon; Pinned apps; Going back to Cover Feed
From a design point of view, the transparent background of the app drawer, the bouncy animations, and the trickery of your profile picture fizzing around like a pinball on the Cover Fee - if such an action is called for - makes it a visual delight. But there's only so much eye candy one can take before wanting to get down to brass tacks.
Tap once on any feed item and your profile bubble appears again. Tap twice and you have liked the picture. If only single tap worked as flawlessly as in the ads for Home. There were a number of times I inadvertently liked a random status message trying to get the bubble to show. When you do get the bubble back, a flick up takes you to the app drawer, a flick to the left takes you to Messenger and the right corner is reserved for your last app. Sounds great, right? It's not.
Having a Messenger shortcut on Cover Feed makes sense as it is perhaps the most-used app on any phone. But if you have just finished replying to a text and are back on Cover Feed, then the last app is Messenger as well, essentially giving you two shortcuts for the same app. Most phones don't even need the last app button, as the Recent Apps menu will take you there anyway. But with Facebook Home, even the Recent Apps menu is fraught with danger.
Killing Home; A sparse Settings page; Messenger can also handle SMS
Say, you are using Nova launcher and you hit the recent apps button. Does Nova also pop up as one of the apps used recently? Nope, we tried and it doesn't. But oddly, Facebook Home does. And we can kill it too. Getting back to the Cover Feed now means there will be more than a little delay as the launcher fires back up again. This reminded me of Gingerbread days when another useless app, Advanced Task Killer, ended up doing the same to launchers every time it was asked to kill all apps.
Thank heavens I was using a Nexus 4 which doesn't give you an option to kill all the Recent Apps from that screen. But other modern phones which can run Home, do. We can imagine someone using Home on a Samsung Galaxy S3, killing all apps from the Recent Apps screen because that's their usual thing to do, and then waiting for a minute or two, before Home comes back on. It's especially frustrating, when you are in a low connectivity area.
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