Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is clearly not as mobile orientated as its competitors — a shortcoming that the social network has been trying to rectify since it went public last May — but Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s avenue of choice is not a Facebook-branded phone… at least not exactly. While Zuckerberg has long maintained that the company will not build a phone of its own, it does need to be a conduit that delivers what consumers want from their phones: ways to communicate, shop, be entertained, and find answers to simple questions. If the social network can manage this goal than it can generate higher revenues from the vast number of users outside the United States, from whom it barely profits currently.
But while the company is not building a phone, it is preparing to take a leap in that direction. Bloomberg reported early Thursday that Facebook will push deeper into smartphone software with a partnership with Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Taiwan-based smartphone manufacturer HTC (HTCKF.PK). The publication predicted that the social network would announce a handset running a Facebook-centric operating system at an event held at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California later in the day, and that’s just what the company unveiled.
“Our phones are designed around apps and not people,” said Zuckerberg at the event, describing his take current trends in smartphone design. “We want to flip that around.” Facebook Home — as the new operating system has been named — was created with that intention in mind. As the social network only melded Google’s current mobile platform to suit its needs, a notable feature that distinguishes Android from Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Facebook created “something a lot deeper” than an operating system or a phone, according to the CEO. “We want to bring this experience to your phone,” Zuckerberg said, pointing out the design’s people-focused interface…
Once Facebook Home — geared toward people who use Facebook a lot — is installed on Android, users will see a series of status updates on the home screen similar to the application’s current NewsFeed. But for Android, it has been renamed the “Cover Feed,” and it is based on a combination of images, links, and updates. It also includes a new feature termed “Chat Heads,” which work in conjunction with Facebook messages and SMS text messages, allowing users to tap on a friend’s face to contact them. A menu constructed along the top of the screen allows users to post a status update or a photograph and receive non-Facebook messages.
The primary boost for Facebook is that Android has been tweaked to showcase Facebook and its apps on the home screen, hence the name. But Facebook Home also incorporates two of the social network’s most recent updates: its new search tool that encourages users to source their friends for answers to questions on everything from restaurants to hiking routes and its updated NewsFeed, which was designed for mobile.
“Facebook would like to be, literally and figuratively, as close to its users as its users are to their phones, within arm’s reach when they are searching for information, news, time wasting, shopping, communication,” Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb told The New York Times. With Facebook Home, the company is betting that Facebook-centric software will result in more user engagement that its current, downloadable app.
The phone, HTC First, will run on AT&T’s (NYSE:T) 4G LTE network and launch on April 12 for $99.99.