Facebook Home, an ambitious attempt to bring the social network front and center on Android smartphones by way of a new home screen experience, launched to great attention and cautious praise by the technology press less than two months ago. Since then however, things have turned a little bit sour: After fledgling sales of the HTC First in the U.S., the first Android smartphone to ship with Facebook Home preinstalled, Facebook just announced they would postpone the First’s U.K. launch until they’ve had time to improve Home. They’ve already outlined some of these planned improvements such as a dock for easier access to your apps, one of the more obvious shortcomings of Home in its first iteration. Facebook seemingly underestimated how much people care about apps in their attempt to put the limelight on your Facebook friends instead. Perhaps focussing on your Facebook stream is a poor design decision to begin with: Where Facebook assumes beautiful pictures and captivating, relevant stories, most people’s Facebook streams are probably a horrifying mix of grainy, over-filtered cam-phone shots, tired cat memes and spam – seeing these every time you unlock your phone isn’t a particularly appealing proposition. As Marco Arment put it:
Facebook Home was flat-out badly designed: it’s designed for optimal input and failed to consider real-world usage.
I don’t mean to be too negative Facebook Home’s design here though. I personally think it’s a failure in product strategy and a victim of unfavorable market dynamics more than anything. Launching a major new mobile platform without widespread manufacturer and operator support doesn’t strike me as a strategy ripe for mainstream success. From a design standpoint, Home is probably more interesting than usable, but I’m glad that Facebook tried something bold and new rather than playing it safe, even if it didn’t work out quite as well as expected thus far.
Post-launch the designers behind Home shared some insights into their design process and I found them an interesting read. Julie Zhuo posted a post-mortem on Medium and Marco De Sa spoke with Fast Co. Labs about their user experience testing process. The Verge ran an article about the making of Chat Heads, arguably the most successful and best-received feature of Home. Finally, David O’Brien (no affiliation with Facebook as far as I can tell) created a series of tutorial videos on how to recreate the Home experience as interactive prototypes in Quartz Composer after he heard that Facebook used the tool internally for prototyping. Whether you consider Home a success or not, you might find these an interesting read.