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What is your definition of social networking? Sending an email, an instant message, using Facebook or Twitter or simply making an old-fashioned telephone call, are all good answers, and communicating digitally has become a lot easier thanks to smartphones and tablets.
Although it isn’t perfect in most cases (launching one app to call someone and then scrolling through a menu to open a second app for email isn’t exactly streamlined) social integration for smartphones is beginning to improve, particularly if you’re using an Android device or a Windows Phone.
Facebook Home is the highly-promoted new Android app from Facebook that unifies messaging and socializing with a single view and launcher, a sort of home screen replacement.
Meanwhile Windows Phone users have People, the contacts/social networking hub that is integrated into the platform.
We thought it would be interesting to see which of these approaches to integrated social networking is most effective.
Facebook Home Explained
Intended (at this stage) purely for a limited number of Android devices, Facebook Home provides an easy interface for viewing Facebook status updates, sending messages and launching your Android apps.
This is done with a single button that can be dragged, just like on the lock-screen, to access the tools for setting your status, uploading a photo or checking into your current location. Although standard Android apps can be launched from within Facebook Home, the app also includes a quick launch to the messaging, check-in, photo upload and status update tools.
For a full overview of Facebook Home, see Tina’s review.
What Is the People Hub?
A key aspect of Windows Phone’s contacts management, the People Hub collects your most recent contacts, offers a contacts “grouping” system for easy mass instant messaging and offers all of your friends’ recent social networking updates, such as links, statuses, and photo uploads.
These are displayed as part of your own People Hub view or as part of your contacts profiles, from where you can also start Facebook chat, send an SMS message or email and – if you’re old-fashioned – make a phone call.
Comparing Facebook Home with the Windows Phone People Hub
Both services purportedly make social networking easier by simplifying the steps required to perform regular activities such as status updates, messaging, and uploading photos.
We’ll use each of these three popular Facebook activities to measure the difference between the two systems, timing the speed with which each can be done, the number of steps/finger gestures and the general reaction of the app while completing the step (looking out for hangs or crashes, errors uploading images, etc.)
For this, I will be using my Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone and a modded LG Optimus P920 3G running Ice Cream Sandwich. Both are connected to my wireless network to overcome any mobile Internet speed differences. It’s fair to say that the LG isn’t currently designed to run Facebook Home, so any slowness on its part may not be replicated on approved devices.
Status Updates Compared
With Facebook Home, viewing your friends’ status updates is a matter of course. The app adds them to your lock screen, enabling you to see new photos and statuses with a single glance. You can also like a photo by quickly double-tapping the unlocked display.
On Windows Phone, the Start screen will display your most recently active contacts in the People tile, while opening it will display a screen of recent updates, not too dissimilar to Facebook viewed through your browser.
Setting a status update in Facebook Home is very simple – tap and hold the slider, select apps > Status and then leave your thoughts before tapping the submit button. The process from lock screen to sending the status consists of four steps: swipe, tap, update, send.
For Windows Phone users, you can either open People > All and tap your current status in the Me screen and Post an update, or go straight to your Me page from the Start screen. This is also done in four steps: tap, tap, update, send.
Which one is quickest? Difficult to judge, but I would say Facebook Home just about edges it.
Facebook Home integrates the Facebook Messenger tool, which can be launched via the apps screen. With this, you can quickly open up a conversation, with the interface remaining unchanged from the standalone Facebook Messenger. From the lock screen this is four steps: swipe, apps, Messenger.
Windows Phone users can launch any type of conversation they like from the contacts list in the People Hub, with SMS and Facebook Messenger conversations enjoying threaded formatting so that you can see who said what, and when. Opening Messenger is a single tap from the Start screen, or via the People Hub it is four steps: tap People Hub, swipe to contacts, tap contact, tap message
Windows Phone offers faster access to messaging, mainly due to the complete integration with the messaging tool. How long the message takes to send, of course, is entirely reliant dependent on network conditions…
Which Service Is Fastest for Photo Uploads?
Uploading a photo in Facebook Home is again performed via the apps screen. Tap the Photo option and either select from your gallery or launch the camera to take a snap immediately.
You can then upload as it is or tap the compose message icon in the lower right corner to add your message. Swipe, photo, choose/snap, send – once again, Facebook Home has it covered in four steps.
Things are a little different for Windows Phone as the People Hub doesn’t have the camera integrated. However holding the camera button will launch the app, enabling you to quick snap and then share to Facebook. This is achieved in three steps: open camera, snap, share.
Despite the integration of photo uploads with the Facebook Home app, however, the action of launching the camera, snapping and sharing in Windows Phone remains quicker.
Finally, each of these social networking umbrellas enables you to “check in” to nearby locations. If you’re comfortable sharing your whereabouts with people, these tools are invaluable.
Facebook Home’s check in tool is found in the app launcher, and offers a very simple two-click system to share your whereabouts without spending too much time fussing with menus.
Windows Phone users have the same benefit, with the check in option on the Me screen in offering all of the same local options. Again, this is a two-tap operation, leaving your followers fully informed as to your whereabouts.
It’s a dead heat here, although I like that both pull down the list of commonly used check in statuses from Facebook!
Conclusion: Don’t Believe the Hype (Yet)
Both solutions are fast and get the job done with the minimum of fuss. But which comes out on top?
- Status Updates: Facebook Home
- Messaging: Windows Phone
- Sharing photos: Windows Phone
- Checking in: draw
As things stand, the integrated People Hub on Windows Phone offers a better unified Facebook experience than Facebook’s own unified app for Android.
Facebook Home is clearly an attempt to replicate one of the main successes of the Windows Phone platform on Android; it’s not a bad job, but Facebook Home needs some work before it can be considered a selling point for any Android device… or even a future Facebook Phone.