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Go Big by Going Home

Launch Day: the culmination of thousands of hours of focused, dedicated work; hundreds of scrapped ideas that will never see the light of day; dozens of sleepless nights; a single burning desire that united a team to build something for the world with their hands and with their minds.

It is also, as we like to say at Facebook, a marker in a journey that is 1% finished.

Less than a week ago, we announced Facebook Home to the world, a people-centric family of apps for Android that elevates the way you share and connect with the people you care about. It will be downloadable for free via Google Play and bundled with the new HTC First phone available this Friday. Already, the team is looking ahead to the next iteration, to the improvements that will make Facebook Home that much smoother or more intuitive, to the seedlings of ideas that will blossom into the next big evolution of the product. There is no time for rest; Launch Day is but one of many milestones on the march towards making the world more open and connected.

At the same time, milestones are a useful time to reflect, to pop up a level from the dizzying pace on the ground and see if there are any lessons, any kernels of truths, to file away for the future. As design manager for Facebook Home, these are the three things that I am taking away from the experience of building our first version of the product.

A big project must have a big vision.

Facebook Home isn’t the kind of thing you approach by looking at what you’ve already built and saying, “Hmm, how can we make some improvements?” On the contrary, this was a project with a strong vision put forth by Mark to “make the content that people want to see—new messages and notifications and updates about the people around you—as accessible as possible.” Eventually, this came to mean “a news feed-like experience on the lock screen” and “the lock screen and the home screen are one and the same.”

I can with a very straight face say that these last two statements seemed crazy at first. Like, really, really ridiculously crazy. There’s not a single other example of a lock screen and a home screen being the same thing. That’s because the two serve different functions. A lock screen has to prevent accidental taps, show you the time, make sure you know which phone is yours, give you quick access to your last app, support a notifications system, etc. A home screen has to be extremely efficient at launching apps. We worried about what it would mean to muddle and combine the two. For instance, app-launching would have to be behind a swipe gesture in our model, which meant it wouldn’t be instantly accessible from tapping the home button. Would that be a problem? Not to mention, if News Feed was your lock screen, how on earth could we also cram notifications on there? And make the News Feed ambient enough to not distract you from getting to your apps? AND support all the functionality of stories such as liking, commenting, ‘continue reading…’, displaying photos and status updates and check-ins, advancing to the next story, tapping on links, etc? AND ensure that your phone wasn’t vulnerable to a slew of butt-typed ‘ghgggehgghg’-esque comments?

It’s likely, as a v1 product, that we didn’t get all of those things right. At the same time, ten months later, looking at Home and where we ended up, the solutions to some of the problems listed above seem obvious. I take that as a good sign. (My first boss once told me, “The sign of a successful design is that it seems obvious in retrospect. But those are usually the hardest solutions to come up with.”) For that I give Joey, Francis, Justin and Mac—the four phenomenal product designers on Facebook Home—every iota of credit. But it was Mark’s vision that laid the groundwork, that pushed the team to achieve what at first seemed an unlikely and somewhat audacious task. I would be lying if I said that no skepticism ever presented itself. It did, and quite strongly. There were periods when the vision seemed to demand too much, seemed to place too many constraints on the design.

But then again, that’s also the sign of a powerful vision.

Give designers the room to dream.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Chat Heads feature was actually conceived of originally by Joey and Brandon prior to Facebook Home, in the context of something else they were working on at the time. Nobody asked them to design Chat Heads. Nobody went up to them and said, “Hey, please put together some design ideas for how we might build a lightweight, simple chatting interface on mobile.” Nobody handed them a spec or rattled off some guidelines for what they should do. No, the idea for Chat Heads came about because those designers saw a problem—chatting on mobile devices is hard—and they had the space and freedom to do something about it. Being in the early phases of their respective projects helped—theirs was an environment of exploration, when things were still ambiguous and crazy blue-sky ideas were encouraged. Having periods like that when designers can have the freedom to explore and dream up kind-of-out-there solutions is essential for good design ideas to flourish. If you are always executing on a week-by-week roadmap and running the product development process like a bootcamp, it’s likely you will get some optimization wins, but full-blown new concepts are not usually born from those environments. There needs to be time for both an execute-and-optimize strategy in design, as well as room and space for more creative, bigger-picture solutions.

Update 4/16: The Verge wrote a great piece about the inside story behind Chat Heads.

You don’t design something like Facebook Home using Photoshop.

I touched on this point earlier in How to Survive in Design (and in a Zombie Apocalypse), but something like Facebook Home is completely beyond the abilities of Photoshop as a design tool. How can we talk about physics-based UIs and panels and bubbles that can be flung across the screen if we’re sitting around looking at static mocks? (Hint: we can’t.) It’s no secret that many of us on the Facebook Design team are avid users of QuartzComposer, a visual prototyping tool that lets you create hi-fidelity demos that look and feel like exactly what you want the end product to be. We’ve given a few talks on QC in the past, and its presence at Facebook (introduced by Mike Matas a few years back) has changed the way we design. Not only does QC make working with engineers much easier, it’s also incredibly effective at telling the story of a design. When you see a live, polished, interactable demo, you can instantly understand how something is meant to work and feel, in a way that words or long descriptions or wireframes will never be able to achieve. And that leads to better feedback, and better iterations, and ultimately a better end product. When you are working on something for which the interactions matter so greatly—in this case, a gesture-rich, heavily physics-based ui—anything less simply will not do.

I want to end by shining the spotlight on the designers that made Facebook Home what it is. Now, of course, Facebook Home is far more than just design—it is top-notch engineering and strong leadership and talented content and research and partnerships and marketing. But as this is a post about design, this too, is a highlight about design.

So often at big companies, the work of individuals are blended into one big, faceless corporation. And yet, at the heart of any product are the people who made it their life’s work. So let me just say this: I could not be prouder to work with a design team so talented, so dedicated, and so unwavering in their desire for quality. Joey Flynn—thank you for bauble, for cover feed, and for setting the bar so high in everything you see and touch. Francis Luu—your positivity is a ray of light, and so is your work on notifications, blues clues, and the end-to-end install flow. Justin Stahl—you started at Facebook and six months later you emerged with a launcher, an app, a preso, and more. Mac Tyler—your energy is an inexplicable well of awesomeness, thank you pouring yourself into saving the day again and again. Skyler Vander Molen—the experience site for Facebook Home is one of the best we’ve ever built. Thank you. Thank you. It’s been an honor and a pleasure working with you. Now onwards, onto v2, v3, and the many other milestones on a journey that’s just begun.

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Yahoo Girds Its Loins For The Battle Over Your Home Screen

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The home screen as it stands cannot last. In reality, what we’re looking at is the end times for the traditional grid of icons that we’ve become so familiar with since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.

There is simply too much context available via the sensors, camera, radios and other inputs we carry around in our pockets not to take advantage of it.

The icon grid design was used in many early smartphones running Palm and Symbian and Windows Mobile. But the iPhone really launched that design into the public consciousness and then Google cemented it with the launch of the first touch screen Android device. I’m not here to argue about firsts, but Apple was essentially responsible for making the grid the ‘standard’ in the eyes of a lot of people — both iPhone users and people who picked up other smartphones running on other operating systems.

But, seven years later, the choices made by Apple to honor the grid demand re-examination. The thought process is relatively simple to disassemble. The grid had been used by other smartphone makers and even Apple’s Newton. It was simple, easy to understand and friendly to people who were being introduced to multitouch — which was for most people a brand new way to interact with touch screens. This was the same process which led it to utilize real-world allegories like bookshelves, page curls and ‘buttony’ buttons.

But that home screen belongs to a bygone era. We’re acclimated now and any new users of smartphones have the collective installed user base to help them along.

Now is the time that the home screen begins to take advantage of the thing that we’re going to be hearing an absolute junk ton about in 2014: context.

I have a ton more thoughts about why 2014 will be the ‘year of context’ for mobile software and hardware, but for our purposes it’s enough to point at a few recent trends. Among those are Google Now, Apple’s ‘Today’ section in Notification Center, Facebook Home, Cyanogen Mod and home screen customization companies like Everything.me and, yes, Aviate.

These various products are all efforts to leverage the contextual signals that our mobile sensor platforms are able to collect and transmit. Where we are, who we are, what our intent is, what our environment looks and sounds like and what we do when we’re there. That context can be used to customize the way that our devices look, feel and work based on our own personal signals.

At this point, a home screen that customizes itself to you, personally, feels as inevitable as a well-worn pair of shoes.

TechCrunch columnist MG Siegler noted a symptom of this recently. The ‘first app you open’ in the morning is becoming more important real-estate than your home screen. In reality the first app you open when you turn on your iPhone is ’springboard’, the home screen. But up to this point it has remained relatively static, with only a couple of minor nods to active icons like the clock and calendar.

Android home screens have always been more malleable, allowing for personalization and customization on a deeper level. Which is why some people really like Android.

But this isn’t just about customization, it’s about reaction and organization on a contextual basis. Which brings us back to Yahoo’s recent acquisition, Aviate.


Aviate is a home screen replacement for Android that interprets signals from you, the user, to present you with the apps, content and alerts you want right when you need them or even before. It groups apps into automated collections. This makes the home screen simple and clean.

It also has elements of app discovery, says Aviate’s Mark Daiss. Aviate will look at the apps that you have and use the most and suggest more like it. The goal for the first run at Aviate was to cover roughly ’80%’ of a user’s day, says Daiss. That includes the major components like getting up, traveling, working and going to bed. From here on out it will be about fleshing out the moments in between.

Daiss credits Facebook Home for creating an awareness of what a launcher was and how a customized home screen could change the experience. Despite the fact that Home didn’t exactly turn out well, Daiss notes that other efforts like GoLauncher have seen success, with that offering currently clocking in at over 100 million installs on Google Play.

One of the reasons I believe Facebook Home’s initial try failed was that it was too insular. Even the most dedicated Facebook user needs more than just one network’s worth of information. That’s why I was curious about Yahoo’s plans for Aviate.

Yahoo SVP of Mobile and Emerging Products Adam Cahan says that the company isn’t interested in turning Aviate into some sort of ‘all Yahoo apps’ portal. For now, it will expand the beta program and get more users checking it out. “Think of this as an extension of [Yahoo] Search,” Cahan says. 6.Location

The extension of search metaphor is an apt one, as contextually aware home screens will be all about using anticipatory ‘searching’ through our apps, habits and use cases to provide us with better experiences. Aviate will now be able to tap deeply into Yahoo data like search, weather, maps and more to inform contextual experiences. But, Daiss is careful to note, Aviate will still choose the best, most definitive data source possible — even if that’s not from Yahoo. With the best data comes the best experiences.

Daiss lays down the core components of what he feels a contextual computing experience are. First, it needs the right input signals, then it needs the information that’s pertinent to the situation and then it has to provide the right user experience.

Part of what they’ve discovered at Aviate is that this experience often involves offering information and context from inside the apps right out on the home screen. But this isn’t a one-shot widget, this is a continuously personalized experience.

One of Aviate’s more popular features is a ‘swipe down’ screen that can offer you context from inside various apps at any given moment. Swipe down at a restaurant and you might get information about what’s good to eat there from Foursquare or Yelp. Swipe down at home and you’ll get alarm settings, a do not disturb toggle and a schedule of meetings.

If you’re an iOS user and this is sounding familiar, yes, this is why Apple acquired Cue. Because its swipe down ‘today’ section has the seeds of this kind of contextual computing, but it needs a lot of water and care to grow. Control Center and Notification Center need to grow up, quickly. (It’s also, I feel, one of the major reasons Apple changed its design so drastically with iOS 7 — it needed a more flexible framework to build within.)

Aviate and other intent-based home screens are champing at the bit to offer people a better experience. And Google Now has an immense amount of head start simply by virtue of the enormous amount of data it has from its users.

Unfortunately, once you start talking about how much these intent-based systems know about us and can anticipate our needs, the spectre of the NSA and government spying programs rears its head. Yahoo, Google and Apple were all targeted for data collection and that’s unlikely to go away. There are some incredibly complex and sticky moral quandaries headed our way with this new contex-heavy world, but that’s probably a discussion best handled in a focused chat about the trend.

For now, we have Yahoo acquiring Aviate in order to make sure that it has a hand in this new world of context-based software. It has the resources to juice the back end with user data, and it’s going to be a big platform for Aviate as a (relatively) agnostic prototype of the custom home screen. And if it’s turning and burning as much as it appears to be on mobile, Yahoo is very interested in how this battle for the home screen turns out.

What’s intriguing about this is that it’s very much a ‘technology company’ move. So much of the confusion about Yahoo and its new direction — I feel — has been rooted in the inability by some to come to grips with the fact that Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer is comfortable thinking of the company as both, and so are her new lieutenants. Yahoo has an enormous amount to prove still. No amount of hot young talent Botox is going to magically turn the company around.

But I don’t find the company’s investments in technology confusing. In this new contextual computing age, if you’re a media company not investing in your own technology, you’re probably not being…anticipatory enough.


AT&T Unfriends Facebook Home


HTC First, also known as the Facebook FB +0.52% Phone, was the first phone to feature Facebook Home preinstalled, the app-cum-operating system that put Facebook on the phone’s home screen.

The appeal was supposed to be the ability to “put your friends first.” But shoppers appear to be putting the phone last.

Within a month after its launch at the competitive price of $99, AT&T T -0.96% discounted it to 99 cents. Today, the BGR tech blog reported that AT&T has decided to discontinue the phone altogether, after selling fewer than 15,000 units during its first month on the market. (BGR’s story was contradicted by AT&T’s PR department who initially declined to comment and then put out a statement that it had “made no decisions on future plans.”)

The Facebook Home software, which is available as a free download, is doing better, but it is far from a blockbuster success. While Facebook Home has surpassed one million downloads at the Google GOOG -0.28% Play story, more than 16,000 people rate it an average of two stars, complaining of battery drain and usability problems.

“I installed it for a few hours and then deleted it with extreme prejudice,” wrote Nizar Senussi. “The whole concept of a Facebook-centric phone is the flaw.”

Josh Constine, writing at TechCrunch, blames the flop on the fact that Facebook Home development team were diehard iPhone users who failed to appreciate features that Android users take for granted, like the ability to organize apps into folders or put popular apps into a dock.

Embarrassment aside, the Facebook Home fiasco is unlikely to seriously derail Facebook’s mobile efforts. Distimo, an app analytics company, which shows developers how well their apps rank in different app stores, ranks Facebook’s mobile app #1 in the US on the Android operating system, with Facebook messenger coming in at #5. International rankings are also strong, with Facebook’s mobile app ranking in the top five in countries like the United Kingdom, Brazil, India and Indonesia on Android or iOS, as well as in dozens of other countries.

Senussi’s review seems to sum up the feelings of millions: “I want a phone that runs Facebook when I want it to, not a Facebook phone.”

(VIA. Forbes)

Facebook Home Hits 500K Downloads In Five Days, Pales In Comparison To Instagram’s Android Shift

Facebook Home Hits 500K Downloads In Five Days, Pales In Comparison To Instagram’s Android Shift

It would appear that Facebook Home has just surpassed 500k downloads on Google Play since launching on the platform five days ago on April 16. The app’s Google Play listing notes the milestone, and Ben Evans confirmed on Twitter.

Facebook Home isn’t so much of an app as a user interface for the phone, putting Facebook smack dab in the center of Android users’ smartphone experience. Users with Facebook Home can post status updates and view the newsfeed straight from the lock screen, and conduct messaging without ever being interrupted, thanks to Chat Heads.

In essence, it’s Facebook’s push past being an app like every other app and being a central force of the smartphone, a launch pad. Hopes are seriously high, as foreshadowed by Zuckerberg’s sweaty brow at the announcement, but word had originally circulated that users weren’t all that into Facebook Home around launch day.

Clearly, that’s not true as the app has garnered over 100,000 downloads a day since launch. Still, these aren’t blow-out numbers. Remember when Instagram launched on Android and hit over 1 million downloads in a day? And then hit over 5 million downloads in six days? Yeah. Those were blow-out numbers.

You also have to consider that Facebook has over a billion users, so 500K doesn’t really move the needle.

But in Facebook’s defense, the Home application is only available on select devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II, HTC One X, and the HTC One X+, along with the Facebook Phone, the HTC First.

Oh, and Facebook is now quite happy for Instagram’s success on Android after that slight $1 billion acquisition.

(VIA. Tech Crunch)

Facebook adds free calling for Android Messenger app users

Facebook has begun expanding the free voice calling feature on its Messenger app to Android users.

Mark Zuckerberg

Earlier this year, the company introduced free voice calling for iPhone users, letting them use the Messenger app to call other Facebook members. The app uses smartphones’ Internet connections to make the call, either through a Wi-Fi network or over 3G or 4G networks.

Now, three months after introducing the feature for iPhone users, Facebook started rolling it out to some U.S. Android users Thursday afternoon and says more users will get the feature throughout Friday. They don’t need to update the Messenger app to use the free voice calling feature.

Once users get the feature, they can access it by tapping the circled “i” icon from within a conversation. After that, they can tap the “Free Call” button and the app will attempt to call the friend they are chatting with.

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A colleague and I tested the feature on the iPhone earlier this year, and we thought the call quality was poor — the caller’s voice sounded fuzzy and tinny. I’m not sure what the quality of the calls sounds like on the Android app, but at the very least, Facebook’s free voice calling feature could be helpful if you’re trying to save on your voice minutes.

Recently, Facebook has been beefing up its messaging service in both its main app and its Messenger app. Along with voice calling, the company has also added voice messages and stickers — which are big emoticons.

Facebook also introduced a feature called Chat Heads earlier this month for both its iPhone Facebook app and for Android on its Facebook Home interface. That feature lets users chat with their friends while they go through the app. If a friend sends a message, users can simply tap on their floating head and the conversation will expand. When they want to get back to surfing Facebook, the user simply taps on their friend’s head again and the conversation minimizes.

(VIA. Los Angeles Times)

Facebook gives U.S. users free calls in Messenger for Android

The social network now allows people in 24 countries to use its messaging app for Android to make free calls.


Facebook is bringing its voice-over-IP calling feature to even more of its users on the Android platform.

On Thursday, the company added the free calling functionality for U.S. users of Facebook Messenger for Android — and Facebook Home, which runs Messenger, by association. The rollout will take place throughout the day and does not require an application update, a company spokesperson told CNET.

The addition introduces a “Free Call” button accessible from a Facebook buddy’s contact page. Those with Facebook Home also can initiate calls from Chat Heads, although it requires several clicks to do so: Click the three dots next to your contact’s name, select “Open in Messenger,” and then navigate to the person’s contact info.

Once you finally get to the Free Call button, Facebook will dial up your friend over Wi-Fi or your phone’s data connection.

he social network has been pushing out the free calling functionality to people in various locales since early January. The VoIP option first started as a test for Canadian users of the company’s Messenger iPhone app in early January, but has since been added to Facebook’s full-featured iPhone app and carried over to Messenger for Android for people in 23 countries. Today’s update means the functionality is available to people in 24 countries.
The option offers people a way to make phone calls without using minutes from their smartphone’s voice plan, which makes the social network a potential threat to carriers.

(VIA. News.CNET)

Facebook Home Now Available in Google Play Store

Facebook Home Now Available in Google Play Store

Facebook Home, the social network’s new more-than-just-an-app, which turns select smartphones into almost Facebook phones, is now available in the Google Play store for free download.

Facebook Home, revealed earlier this month, was made available Friday for owners of the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, and Samsung Galaxy Note II. The new $99.99 HTC First smartphone, also released Friday, comes preloaded with Facebook Home, while the interface will be made available for the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 at a future date, Facebook said.

Owners of other Android phones will have to wait until Facebook releases Home for their phones. Tablets running Google’s mobile operating system will also get access to Facebook Home at some point, the company said.
The best news for early adopters? Facebook Home doesn’t have ads and won’t for at least several months, according to the company.

The Home “experience,” as the company bills it, comes up short of turning a handset into the full-fledged “Facebook phone” some people anticipated was being developed ahead of Facebook Home’s unveiling. It’s not a new mobile operating system or even a fork of Android, but it’s also quite a bit more than another innocuous button to add to your phone’s app launcher.

What it does is serve up Facebook, and lots of it, to devices from the moment they’re turned on. Facebook Home first and foremost lives on a phone’s lockscreen, delivering a stripped-down, tailored version of a user’s News Feed, complete with alerts and the ability to comment on and like items as they dribble in across the touch screen.
Beyond that, Facebook has also repurposed the basic Android app launcher from the ground up, and Home also includes a messaging management system called Chat Heads.

As is par for the course for Facebook, Home has already become a controversy magnet. PCMag lead mobile analyst Sascha Segan figures the social networking giant has finally done mobile right with the new product. He’s also reviewed the HTC First and found that while the AT&T-exclusive handset “is only average phone,” Home “puts Facebook front and center, in a way that makes it easier to stay connected than ever before.”
Others have raised concerns about privacy and security with Facebook Home, questioning the company about data collection and the decision to create a default setting where a Home-loaded phone provides access to a Facebook account on the lockscreen.

For what it’s worth, Facebook’s chief privacy officer of policy Erin Egan and chief privacy officer of products Michael Richter responded to some of those queries in a joint blog post.

Meanwhile, a recent look at the buzz on Twitter around Facebook Home by analytics firm Salorix indicated that consumer sentiment surrounding the new mobile offering is mostly neutral or negative. Much of those feelings stemmed from apprehension about privacy issues. Not surprisingly, Microsoft also wasn’t impressed.

For more, check out PCMag’s hands on with Facebook Home and the slideshow above, as well as How to Get Facebook Home.