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Facebook Home: Thumbs up for Zuckerberg's mobile master plan

Facebook got it right. Never mind the "HTC First." Facebook Home is the right approach to take.

Facebook Home doesn't actually turn your phone into a "Facebook phone," because that would be a very bad idea. Facebook may be 20-something per cent of the things people do with their phones, according to Mark Zuckerberg, but that means even faithful users aren't on Facebook 80 per cent of the time.

But for millions of Android users, the lock screen is pretty much dead space. Maybe it shows the time, a calendar reminder, and a wallpaper. Android home screens are highly configurable, but I've seen some solid research that many people don't configure them at all, just leaving them as the default march of icons. For people who don't want to arrange their own furniture Facebook Home colonises that dead space and makes it useful and pretty.

If you spend a lot of time doing Facebook messaging, Facebook Home finally integrates it into Android in a way that Windows Phone and BlackBerry owners have enjoyed for years. You still have easy access to all of your apps and standard Android features. It's not a fork, it's not a skin, and it doesn't break anything. It even coexists happily with HTC Sense and TouchWiz. That's important because HTC and Samsung have already integrated Facebook into their contact books and calendar apps, saving Facebook the trouble there. Don't like it? Uninstall it.

I'd like to get the time back onto the lock screen. I check the time on my phone a lot. But I also recognise that as a guy who uses Beautiful Widgets, I'm not the target market for an experience designed to impress people who don't like to rearrange icons.

My Twitter feed is right now full of pundits who tend to not like using Facebook. They aren't the target market either. Obviously, if you don't like Facebook, this won't make you like Facebook more. Facebook Home is supposed to convert lighter users into heavier users.

The HTC First looks like a nice midrange phone which won't make much of an impact, because single-carrier midrange exclusives don't make much of an impact any more, even if they're nice.

But Facebook, once again, got it right by making sure Home works on the Samsung Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 2 and HTC One - sure to be this year's Android best-sellers and flagships. With those out of the way, the company now needs to target the most popular midrange phones as well.

The big questions now are around advertising and privacy. While Facebook Home doesn't have ads yet, it will, and a too-aggressive ad policy can turn people off. Facebook has overshot with ads before, with the Facebook Beacon disaster that revealed too much about users' habits on the web to advertisers and their friends. But a few, well-targeted ads don't anger most people too much; Amazon's ad-supported Kindles are selling just fine.

Taking over the home screen means Facebook will be omnipresent, too, and Facebook has to avoid the temptation to take all of that juicy location and presence data and bundle it up for advertisers by default. Users will opt in to location-based ads if they think it's in their interest.

The Facebook Home experience would lead well to being copied by other social networks, like Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr. HTC is aiming for roughly the same spot with Blink Feed, its default home screen on the HTC One phones, but that isn't as focused. For people who spend much of their time on a primary social network, home screen replacements like these can take their Android experience to a higher level.