Editors' Note: Updated at 10:42 p.m. ET with more additional details about Messenger and Instagram.
SAN JOSE, California — Facebook wants to show everyone it's serious about privacy now, using its annual developers conference to elaborate on what the company is touting as its "privacy-focused future." But Facebook had plenty to say about its present, announcing new features for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Portal that will start rolling out today (April 30) and continue throughout the year.
Facebook, for example, is getting a redesign, first for its mobile app and later this year for the web version of the social network. Messenger is getting an overhaul as well, with Facebook promising a faster mobile app and planning a desktop version of the chat app for this fall. And Facebook Dating, first announced at last year's F8 developer conference, will finally launch in the U.S. later this year.
But Facebook executives introducing those new features took great pains to explain how they fit in with the social networking giant's recent pivot to privacy-focused products, first announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a blog post last month. The F8 keynote today gave Zuckerberg his first chance to expand on those ideas and how Facebook is going to approach what he described as a "massive undertaking" that take years to complete.
"This is the next chapter for our services," Zuckerberg told F8 attendees. "In addition to the digital town square, we need the equivalent of a digital living room."
Facebook doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to safeguarding user data — something Zuckerberg acknowledged during his speech. "I get that a lot of people are sure we aren't serious," he said. "We don't have the strongest reputation on privacy right now to put it lightly."
Zuckerberg's answer to the skeptics is to outline several principles that are going to guide Facebook's efforts going forward, starting with a focus on private interactions and encryption. Reduced permanence will figure into more of Facebook's products, building off the success it's had with the Stories feature in Instagram. "You shouldn't have to worry that what you say and share should come back to hurt you later," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook's other principles include user safety and ensuring interoperability between different products like Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook is also vowing to prioritize secure data storage — Zuckerberg said the company wouldn't store user data in countries that don't have strong laws on data protection.
"At the end of the day this isn't about building a few new products," Zuckerberg said. "It's a major shift for how we operate as a company."
That's a different tune from Facebook's traditional "move fast and break things" mantra, which critics of the company have blamed for its repeated privacy stumbles. With its shift to a privacy-focused platform, Zuckerberg indicated the company was going to adopt a more cautious approach to rolling out new features. Still, Zuckerberg hinted that we haven't heard the last of some of the bad headlines that have dogged his company for more than a year.
"I'm sure we're going to keep unearthing old issues for a while, so it may not seem like we're making progress at first," Zuckerberg said.
Meanwhile, Facebook is continuing to roll out changes to its existing lineup. Here's what Facebook announced during its developer conference, along with how these planned changes fit into the company's new focus.
A new look for Facebook with a new focus
Facebook announced a major redesign that seemingly clears up a lot of the clutter on your timeline with an eye toward making it easier to find the things you're looking for The redesign, dubbed FB5 within Facebook, rolls out to the mobile app today in the U.S. The desktop version of the social networking site will see the new look in a few months.
Facebook's redesign is more than just putting a prettier face on the site. It's also emphasizing Groups, which have become a key part of the Facebook experience. Facebook executives say 400 million people on the site belong to a group they find meaningful so the redesign includes a redesigned Groups tab that makes it easier to discover new groups. To emphasize the importance Facebook's putting on Groups, the icon for the Groups tab is now located right in the center at the top of the redesigned Facebook mobile app. Other sections of Facebook like Marketplace, Facebook Watch and Gaming will point you to groups, too.
Specific types of groups in Facebook will also see new features, such as new templates in job groups where employers can post openings. In health support groups, you'll now be able to ask group administrators to post on your behalf to preserve anonymity on sensitive topics. A new chat feature in gaming groups will allow threads to encourage more private interactions. And local community groups will get an events tab that will include recommendations and the ability to make plans with friends alongside upcoming events, putting all of those capabilities in one place.
Messenger gets faster
Facebook is working on a redesign for its messaging app that it says will make the app 7x smaller and twice as fast as the leading chat apps. Dubbed Lightspeed, this version of Messenger weighs in at less than 30 megabytes and has a cold-start time of 1.3 seconds, according to Facebook. It will arrive later this year.
That's not the only change coming to Messenger. The messaging app is currently testing a feature where you'll be able to watch Facebook videos together with friends in Messenger. That feature's slated for later this year, as is a redesigned look for the app that's organized around your friends and the stories they're sharing in the app.
In a blog post outlining the changes coming to Messenger, Asha Sharma, Facebook's head of messenger consumer products, promised that Messenger would become " fast, private, interoperable and a space for close friends and family." That point about interoperability is a significant one, as Facebook is looking for ways to allow users of its different messaging apps to chat with each other more.
Messenger comes to the desktop
Right now, if you want to use Messenger, you're whipping out your smartphone, but that should change in the fall. Facebook says it's planning to launch a standalone desktop version for Mac and Windows that will incorporate the key features from the mobile app.
Get ready for Facebook Dating
Last year at F8, Facebook announced plans to get into the dating game, with an opt-in service where you could find potential connections with people who share your interest. The dating feature is separate from your regular news feed, even giving you a separate dating profile that's not visible to your Facebook friends.
Facebook's been gradually rolling out the feature as a test in different countries, currently offering its dating service in five places (Colombia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, and Mexico). That's going to expand to 14 more countries today, mostly in Asia and South America. But lovelorn U.S. users can mark their calendars for later this year when Facebook Dating arrives in this country.
Facebook's adding a feature that could help you find love among your Facebook friends called Secret Crush. You can create a list of up to nine people you're interested in. If they also set up a Facebook Dating profile, they'll be told they have a secret crush. And if they happen to create a crush list that you're on, Facebook will bring you two crazy kids together. It's an odd feature to introduce at a time when Facebook is trying to shore up its privacy bona fides but we'll likely learn more as Facebook Dating gets closer to a U.S. launch.
Instagram's new camera and other changes
Get ready for a new look for Instagram's Camera feature, which is aimed to make it simpler and easier to use. The changes include a new Creator mode aimed to let you share on Instagram even when you don't have a photo or video to share. Instead, using Creator, you'll be able to share quizzes, stickers and other effects.
Facebook is also testing new designs for Instagram that downplay the number of followers you have, with the idea of making participation in the image-sharing service seem less like a competition.
To that end, Instagram also is eyeing a private like counts feature: you'll be able to see who liked a photo, but you won't get an exact number of likes. (The owner of the photo can request that information.) Facebook bills that change as a way for Instagram users to spend less time worrying about likes and more time connecting with other users. Testing on that feature begins this week.
Other Instagram changes include the ability to raise money for nonprofits using a donation sticker that's now available. And next week, you'll be able to shop for items that appear in the Instagram messages of Creators who've got a look or style you like; tapping the object lets you buy it directly from within Instagram.
Instagram also wants to step up efforts to combat bullying, said Adam Mosseri, head of product for Instagram at Facebook. One of the features the service is testing will "nudge" users to rethink posts if filters detect overly aggressive messages. Instagram is also mulling an "away" mode, that will let users step away from the service if they're going through a difficult period like moving to a new school.
New Portal features
Facebook's Portal smart display is already available in the U.S., and it comes to Canada this June. European users will be able to buy the smart display later this fall.
When it does arrive in those regions, Portal should offer new features. This summer, you'll be able to say good morning to your Portal and get an update on birthdays and upcoming events among other information. Facebook says it's adding more Alexa skills too, and later this year, you'll be able to watch Amazon Prime Video from the smart screen.
WhatsApp is coming to Portal, too, and Facebook plans to bring end-to-end encryption to all calls using the device. Facebook will integrate its Facebook Live feature into Portal as well.
With a roomful of developers and a worldwide audience, Facebook took the opportunity to announce that it's taking preorders for the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest. Both gaming-centric VR headsets cost $399 and ship on May 21.
See our full review of the Oculus Quest to find out if this gaming headset is right for you.
Image Credits: Facebook