Facebook Home for Android is an app or "skin" that replaces your home screen launcher and lock screen on compatible Android devices.

For all of the speculation about a Facebook phone, we now know the social media behemoth understood all along that it’s never been about Facebook having its own hardware. Instead the new Facebook Home for Android is a Android launcher or "skin" that aims to own your home screen and lock screen, and in turn, all of your social experiences. In so doing, Facebook has instantly transformed the role and importance of images in social media, bringing images to the forefront in a way that not even its desktop Timeline feature could.

Facebook Home: What is it?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that while Facebook Home taps into deep levels of Android, it’s not another mobile operating system. Once you install Facebook Home, your phone (a limited number are supported at launch, but Facebook intends to grow support across models and manufacturers quickly, and will eventually offer Facebook Home for tablets) will be transformed into a Facebook experience; it just won’t be the same phone you initially bought. Consider Facebook Home a fresh paint job, with the furniture rearranged to bury the native Google Android experience and instead let all things Facebook social bubble up to the top layers, a finger swipe away.

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Facebook Home for Android is an app or "skin" that replaces your home screen launcher and lock screen on compatible Android devices. Primary to the experience is the Cover Feed, a rotating display of status updates, page links and photo stories, with captions and links appearing on the top of the image.

 Images are the central element of Facebook Home's cover feed...
 ...but Home currently offers no direct imaging capabilities.

Here, it’s all about the images: Facebook Home zooms into a section of an image, finding the center of action and letting it take over the entire display. At least, that’s what it appeared to do in the samples shown on phones at the event; Facebook representatives could not confirm how, exactly, the app’s algorithm works to detect where to zoom on images, let alone what minimum resolution or other image characteristics will allow a photo to appear in your Cover Feed.

By exposing images posted to Facebook in such a visceral, in-your-face way, images become central to the post. In fact, images will likely define any given post more so than the pithy status update or amusing caption that goes along with it. The image, and not the words, take center stage.

Because of this, a likely side-effect will be that social media users may actually rethink the images they post, and how they’re going to be seen. This isn’t to say that people won’t continue to post drunken antics and embarrassing photos to Facebook. But perhaps, if Facebook Home takes off, the new role of images will help push users to think more about the images they’re capturing -- and sharing.

Facebook is no longer about low-resolution, mediocre images. The truth is, it hasn’t been for a while -- after all, the company bumped the resolution of its images from 720 pixels to 2048 pixels in late 2010. But it’s taken time for consumers -- and the devices they own on a two year contract plan -- to catch up to that higher-resolution reality. And now, it only makes sense that this new image exposure could have an impact on what we post and share on the service.

Facebook Home in the Social Landscape

At the launch event, Zuckerberg made a point about how smartphones are replacing traditional computers, a reality that lay behind Facebook’s decision to refocus its energy on mobile platforms in 2012. The prevalence of smartphones and exponential growth expected in the coming years is only part of the story, though, of why Facebook Home makes sense. And why even tighter integration with Instagram than exists with Facebook Home feels, well, inevitable.

A few stats to consider. According to a March 2013 IDC study (granted, one sponsored by Facebook), 53 percent of Facebook users 18 to 44 years old use the social network to share and post photos. As of 2012, Facebook reported its users were posting over 250 million images daily. Yes, daily. Meanwhile, over at Instagram (which Facebook purchased last year for a final pricetag of $741 million), another 40 million photos are posted daily.

That’s a lot of images being shared among us.

 Commenting is easily done directly from  the home screen.
 All your usual apps can still be accessed through the app tray.

While Facebook Home’s central positioning of the Cover Feed is transformative for sharing images, the company missed a huge opportunity to transform how smartphone users capture and upload images to the service. Although Facebook Camera speeds up capturing and sharing images on Apple’s iOS, that functionality didn’t transfer to Facebook Home.

While Facebook didn’t provide us with any official comments on future directions or why camera enhancements were missing, a company representative noted that the focus of the version 1.0 release was home screen, lock screen and chat. Facebook’s Zuckerberg said there would be monthly updates to Facebook Home, and while I wouldn’t expect every one of those to offer groundbreaking new features, I’d be surprised if Facebook didn’t introduce tighter integration with a smartphone’s camera in the coming months.

That would make sense. For one, smartphone cameras are quickly getting good enough that they’re replacing point-and-shoot cameras as consumers’ camera of choice. The best camera is the one you have with you, and your phone is, well, always with you. 

For another, it makes total sense for Facebook to find ways to streamline image capture and sharing directly to Facebook or Instagram, without specifically launching a vertical app. Getting rid of vertical app silos is the whole point of Facebook Home, according to Zuckerberg. And anything that makes it easier to capture and share will simply help bolster Facebook’s already gonzo-sized imaging traffic. The current iteration of Facebook Home has no camera integration; the photos tab on the app launcher simply taps into your phone’s camera gallery, and lets you pick images to upload to the service. 

The bigger question for the future is whether Facebook will get competition in its fight for controlling your social world. Could a Twitter-driven or improved, Google-driven experience be far behind? Only time will tell.