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Facebook Home Android overlay first impressions

04 Apr 2013

Facebook Home application on Samsung Galaxy S3

Facebook Home was launched by Mark Zuckerberg late on Thursday. Designed to put people before apps the service looks to put Facebook at the forefront of the Android operating system's UI.

V3 managed to get a quick hands on with the device at the London launch event on a Samsung Galaxy S3.

Home effectively works by pushing users Facebook news and updates to the forefront of the Android UI and is designed to let users swipe through news feed stories and updates, akin to the BlinkFeed news feature on the HTC One.

Each swipeable screen updates the background image, pulling either the contacts Facebook profile image or a picture from the image used in the group page post.

The post's text is displayed on the top of the UI while the number of likes is displayed on the bottom right. This means that the UI is very similar to that seen on the current Facebook Android app, meaning existing Facebook users will feel right at home.

Facebook Home also adds a number of custom gesture inputs to Android. These are things like letting you double tap the screen to 'like' the post.

On the S3 we found the gesture inputs were fairly responsive and flipping between screens and liking posts was a seamless chug-free experience, indicating Home won't suffer the same optimisation issues as other custom skins, like Samsung's Touchwiz and HTC's Sense.

Home also features a tracking algorithm that monitors your behaviour on the phone. It does this by tracking which posts you like and how quickly you flip past them, using the data to learn which messages it should push to the forefront of the home screen.

Unfortunately the demo unit we tried had a test account running on it so we didn't get to see how well it worked.

Facebook Home happy people

Chat Heads is another key change to the Facebook UI. Chat Heads is designed to further integrate Facebook messenger into the operating system. It does this by displaying any active Facebook contacts and the messages they send to you as little circular icons showing their profile picture at the top of the screen.

The icons, when clicked, automatically opens a chat dialogue with the contact. Unwanted messages can be removed by pulling down on the bottom of the UI.

Chat Heads will reportedly continue to work even when other apps are open. Our one concern with this is that it may make the service fairly power hungry and eat up smartphones battery and memory, potentially causing some performance issues - though to be fair we didn't notice any on the demo unit we were using.

Another key concern with the chat feature at the moment is that it's unclear what security measures the service will boast and whether messages stored on the device will be encrypted as they are on Apple iMessenger.

Nevertheless, we're fairly interested in Facebook Home. The feature is a clear move by Facebook to expand its advertising potential and could potentially be the first stage in a wider expansion by the US firm.

Facebook Home group post

Facebook Home is set to launch on 12 April on the HTC First in the US and be made available to download on key devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, Note 2, HTC One X+ and the forthcoming Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

This is just for the US market at present with no set word on UK availability beyond saying in the "coming weeks".

Check back then for our full review.

Facebook Graph Search hands-on review

16 Jan 2013

A hoodie-wearing Mark Zuckerberg took to a stage in San Francisco last night to show off the firm's latest feature, Social Graph.

While some had been expecting a Facebook phone, the smart money was on a search feature and so the announcement was not a huge surprise. The real issue, though, is what the tool means for Facebook, both for its own growth and rival Google, and if it's any good.

On the surface the announcement doesn't appear a huge threat to Google, as the focus is more on the social data within Facebook than web searches, a point Zuckerberg was keen to point out more than once.

However, the move clearly puts Facebook in position where it could undercut Google's own growing social-search push with its data from Google+. Boasting one billion users, Facebook clearly has an enormous head start here.

The team on stage where at pains to point out that the tool is in very early beta at the moment, and will be refined as more people start using it. V3 was able to swing an early beta pass, so we could get our grubby mitts on the tool, to see if it can live up to the hype.

Using the tool is easy: it sits at the top of the entire Facebook page and when you first place your cursor in the search bar it offers you a series of set topics you can dive into (shown below).

Facebook Graph Search at top of Facebook page

 Facebook Graph Search categories drop down

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you begin typing predictive results are offered – similar to Google – and generally these are fairly accurate, although some are a bit odd. A search for David Cameron offered David Cameron’s Bed. Erm, no thanks.

However, on playing around with the search functions the possibilities of the tool are revealed. For example, searching for photos becomes very interesting as you can have clearly defined searches for your friends, places, or dates.

We searched for photos of the London Olympics and were returned the below photos. It’s important to note these are not photos taken by us, or friends, but just public images tagged with the relevant information for Facebook to find.

Photos taken from Olympic Games on Facebook Social Graph

This could well be of concern for those with a thing for privacy, although Facebook stressed that if you have your settings as private, your information will never be displayed to strangers, only friends.

Other interesting search capabilities including restaurants, books or films, helping you see what people you are friends with (and therefore trust, assuming to Facebook it seems) like to eat, watch or read.

Indian restaurants from Facebook Graph Search

However, where the tool really seems to excel is crossing to sets of data: for example, we searched for people in London that like Arrested Development; this returned friends of friends who have both sets of information listed in their profiles.

Of course, this does also make it a bit of a stalker's paradise. For example, you can search terms such as "photos of friends taken by non-friends" or even more worryingly, "photos of non-friends taken by friends".

Again, if you have the right privacy settings, Facebook seems to suggest you couldn't show up in such search terms, but given the complexity of ensuring you have the right privacy settings don't be surprised if you're being looked at by strangers.

Businesses could find use in the tool too, though. This could be through head-hunting, by searching for people with relevant skills and have mutual connections - thereby making it easier to get in touch with a potential employee - or to find out more information on page fans.

However, when V3 asked Facebook's team if they could elaborate on how businesses would be able to use the tool in other ways, we received a classic non-answer that just involved telling businesses to ensure their profile data is correct so users get the right information.

This doesn't really address questions of whether or not firms will have additional capabilities or controls, or how they can access data on their fans, but as the tool is only now available in a very limited beta, we'll forgive them and assume more information will come in the future.

For now, though, while Facebook might not have set the world ablaze with its announcement, it underlines the firm's growing ambitions, and, with a billion users' data behind it, it could well prove a worrying development to Google.

Twitter overhauls iPad app and offers Facebook-style banner images

18 Sep 2012

V3 Twitter banner image

In its ongoing efforts to make its site ever more beautiful Twitter has announced a couple of notable updates to its platform.

Firstly, it's offering a new iPad app that it promises offers a "fast, beautiful and easy to use" interface for the service, by offering the ability to expand and view messages for video, image and web page content within a single pane.

It also offers a more streamlined method for tracking conversations, replies and retweets and an improved means of finding other content by offering a clearer view of the trending topics and offering advice on new contacts to follow.

Twitter new iPad app including banner images

Secondly, the firm has also introduced the ability for users to add large banner images above their profile pages, mimicking Facebook where this feature has been available for some time.

"While the header photo keeps your profile simple and consistent on iPhone, iPad and Android, you will also still have an additional photo - a background photo - on Twitter.com," said product manager Sachin Agarwal.

As you can see at the top of the page, V3 has already taken advantage of these new feature and given our page a nice technology look in a colour scheme befitting our brand. Make sure you're following @V3_co_uk for all the latest technology news!

 

Twitter promises further updates to mimic Facebook news streams

11 Aug 2011

Twitter home page

 

Twitter has announced a series of updates to be rolled out in the coming weeks designed to provide more information on account activity akin to the Facebook feed.

The first update will see the @mentions column change to @yourname (e.g. @V3_co_uk) to include information about @ replies and updates that the user has posted which have been 'favourited', as well as retweets of messages and recent new followers.

The second update will see a new tab labelled 'Activity' that will show information on the interactions of other users on the site, including who they've followed, messages they've retweeted and messages they've 'favourited'.

The updates will bring more of a Facebook feel to the site by providing a constant stream of information relating to the user and the accounts of other users as Twitter continues to add new functionality.

The company confirmed on Tuesday that users can now directly upload photos to the site, rather than having to use a third-party client such as TwitPic.

V3 recently listed our favourite 100 Twitter users in 10 categories, including security experts, celebrities, comedians and MPs, which you can find under our dedicated Top 100 Technology Tweeters tag.

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