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Facebook is bringing your friends' photos, links and observations to your phone's home screen.
If you install the new Home software on certain Android phones from HTC and Samsung, Facebook will bring content right to you, rather than require you to check apps on the device. That way, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says, you're always knowing what is going on around you.
Zuckerberg compares the change to the way Facebook had introduced news feeds years ago to bring friends' updates to a central location, instead of making you check your friends' profile pages one by one.
Central to Home is the new Cover Feed. Facebook's director of products, Adam Mosseri, notes that when people look at their phones now, they typically see a clock and perhaps the snippet of an email. With Home, you'll see photos and other posts as soon as you turn on your phone. Those items will take up the entire display screen.
Mosseri offers an example of standing in line at a store and looking down at the phone to see photos of friends and family. You can swipe from one item to the next from the home screen. If there's something you like, just double tap on it to "like" it. You can also add comments from the home screen.
Home will also have chat heads, a way to communicate with friends from that home screen, without needing to open an app. You can chat with multiple people at once that way — and flick away the photo of anyone you don't want to chat with.
The new experience will also make notifications such as friend requests more prominent. There's also an app launcher that keeps Home running in the background while even as you check out other features on the phone.
Home will work with only a handful of Android phones at first: HTC Corp.'s One X and One X Plus and Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2. The upcoming HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV will also be able to run Home. In addition, HTC's First will have it already installed.
If you have one of those devices, you'll be able to get Home for free by visiting Play, the online store run by Google Inc., the maker of the Android operating system. If you already have a Facebook app, you'll get a prompt when Home is ready to download on April 12. The software will be updated with new features monthly.
Eventually, Facebook plans to make it available for all Android phones running version 4.0 or later. That is the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions and covers phones made or updated over the past year or so. Facebook says it focused on about a half-dozen devices first to make sure Home worked right.
Facebook will make a version for Android tablet computers, too, but that's not coming for months.
There won't be a version for Apple's iPhone and iPad. 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 Android available on an open-source basis, free for anyone to modify, so it's easier to make changes. But Facebook says it's not making a new version of Android, a practice known as forking. Home is being built on top of Android.
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.
But it is partnering with HTC to build a phone with Home already installed. Called First, the phone will have a screen that measures 4.3 inches diagonally and will work on AT&T Inc.'s 4G LTE cellular network. The phone will cost $100 with a two-year service agreement. It will go on sale April 12, with advance orders beginning Thursday.
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.
Facebook 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.