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BLOG: Android and Facebook work together on Home, not competitively

Steve Patterson | April 19, 2013
How Facebook Home accomplishes its mobile goals without interfering with the Android user experience.

The notion that Facebook Home would smother Android and interfere with Google's services is completely unfounded. Gmail notifications pop through Home's Coverfeed, Google's notifications appear normally with a downward swipe, and Google Now can be accessed by pressing and holding the Home button.

Within a few minutes of using Home, it's easy to understand why Google Chairman Eric Schmidt endorsed it at the Dive into Mobile Conference a few days ago. Schmidt's remarks were made in response to Microsoft VP Terry Meyerson reportedly alluding to Google blocking the download of Home on the Google Play app store because it was competitive. Schmidt explained:

"[blocking Facebook Home would be] counter to our public statements, policies and religion... this is what Android is about, we are phenomenally happy that people are extending Android in all these ways."

Yesterday at Facebook's New York office, Engineering VP Cory Ondrejka echoed Schmidt's enthusiasm of Android's open source architecture. Speaking to a small group of journalists, Ondrejka spoke candidly about Home and designing and building products at Facebook. In 18 months, Facebook has progressed from a predominately web service company with a hybrid mobile app to become one of the top "mobile-first" product developers.

Ondrejka said that to accomplish its goal, Facebook had three choices: create a new operating system, fork Android into a separate version like Amazon, or build an extensive Android app. Facebook chose the app alternative because developers could replace the home screen, launcher and other features and still have the reach of the Google Play store to distribute it. The toughest challenge in starting the Home project, according to Ondrejka, was convincing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that developers could achieve Home's extensive design goals with just an Android app.

When it came to designing the right features for Facebook users, Ondrejka spoke about Android and iOS on a continuum. Although the actual development for these two platforms is very different, Ondrejka spoke of choosing to develop first between the two platforms based on the expediency of getting team feedback to a new design or to quickly get a feature out to users to see how they respond. For example, Chatheads would have been easier and faster to build on iOS. Overall, he implied that Android and Google Play had some time-to-market advantages over iOS and Apple's App store:

"with Android, you can come up with a crazy idea and just ship it via the Play Store."

Facebook Home won't reach the iPhone because developers can't overwrite the iOS home screen. Apparently, though, Facebook version 6 for iOS has benefitted from a combined Home design effort, getting a new feed redesign and chatheads in its recent release.


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