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September 20, 2017

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Facebook tweaks Androids to build new 'Home'

MENLO PARK, California -- With its new "Home" on Android gadgets, Facebook is trying to prove that a company doesn't have to make a smartphone or operating system to define how people interact with mobile technology. The audacious move will provide further insights into how pervasive Facebook has become, testing whether people want to be greeted with content from the social network every time they look at their phones.

When people start downloading the Home software upon its April 12 release in the U.S., Facebook will become the new hub of their Android smartphones.

Switch on your phone and you'll see friends' photos, overlaid by status updates, links and eventually, advertisements in Facebook's quest to bring in more revenue and restore its stock price to where it stood when the company went public nearly 11 months ago.

About 80 percent of what currently appears within a Facebook user's News Feed will automatically be transferred into the "cover feed" of the Home service. For instance, a sibling's status update might be featured prominently on the phone's home screen when it's unlocked. Swipe a finger and there might be a photo posted by one of your best friends. Want to like what you see? Just tap on the home screen twice. Comments can be posted directly from the home screen, too.

If other friends happen to send you a message, their Facebook photo will pop up as a notification.

Other Facebook features, such as video, will be added to Home in future months. A Home version for Android-powered tablet computers also will be coming later this year.

Once they have had their fill of what Facebook is feeding them on the Home service, users can just swipe a finger on the screen to get to all the standard Android apps to listen to music, watch videos or send email.

At first, Home will only work on some Android devices, including HTC Corp.'s One X and One X Plus and Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2. For now, Home isn't compatible with the Nexus phone designed by Google, a fierce Facebook rival whose pliable Android software is being modified to accommodate the new service.

A phone from HTC that comes pre-loaded with Home will be available starting April 12, with AT&T Inc. as the carrier. The HTC First will sell for US$99.99 with a two-year data plan from AT&T.

Home is debuting after several years of speculation that Facebook intended to make its own phone or mobile operating system to drive more traffic to its social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the speculation never made sense to him because he believes a company-produced phone might only end up in the hands of 10 million to 20 million people. The Home service gives Facebook a chance to take control of the main screen of every phone running on Android, the leading mobile operating system. In the U.S. alone, about 64 million people will be relying on Android-driven phones this year, estimated the research firm eMarketer.

"Just building a phone isn't enough for Facebook," Zuckerberg said Thursday during Home's unveiling at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters.

The idea behind the software is to bring Facebook content right to users' home screens, rather than requiring them to check various apps to see what their friends are up to, or to chat. Down the line, Facebook will integrate its existing camera app and other features. Though cameras and calls won't be built into the initial version of Home, Zuckerberg promised the software will be updated at least once a month to add more features and fix bugs.

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