Facebook announced Thursday that it’s funneling its DNA into the Android platform with a suite of apps called “Facebook Home” that integrates the social network into nearly every step of smartphone use.
The new software offers users the ability to update home screens, integrate Facebook and text messaging and post a status, photo or check-in easily from nearly any screen on their phones.
At a California press conference announcing the feature, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that the clean, quick user interface is meant to showcase the network at its best.
“We think this is the best version of Facebook there is,” Zuckerberg said at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park.
There had been rumors that Facebook was looking to manufacture its own phone, but Zuckerberg said that the company decided to make Facebook Home a software suite in order to reach a wider audience of the network’s users. A phone manufactured by Facebook itself, he said, could only reach a fraction of the network’s users. By integrating the software with Android, he said, the company can reach many more of its users.
HTC will be the first smartphone maker to feature Facebook Home. The HTC First will come pre-loaded with the software at the time of purchase. The phone will be available for pre-order starting Thursday.
Some Android users will also be able to download the suite of apps onto premium HTC and Samsung smartphones, such as the forthcoming HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4, as well the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II.
Consumers will be able to purchase the HTC First and access Facebook Home from other eligible devices on April 12.
Jan Dawson, analyst for Ovum research firm, said in a research note following the announcement that Facebook’s deeper mobile integration gives the company a much-needed way to increase engagement on mobile devices-- which have become the social network’s main platform. It also enables the company to add even more to its growing treasure trove of user data for advertising use, he said.
“It will allow Facebook to track more of a user’s behavior on devices, and present more opportunities to serve up advertising, which is Facebook’s main business model,” Dawson said. But he also noted that this may not sit well with those Facebook users who already feel the network knows too much about their personal lives.
Zuckerberg, however, spoke at length on how this social approach to the smartphone resonates more among young people who want to see their phones “designed around people first,” rather than around applications. He pointed out that young people who have grown up with the Internet and the social Web interact with their devices differently than those who grew up with only computers, and that they don’t like having to move from app to app to get updates on what’s happening with their friends.
“The very definition of what a computer is and what our relationship to it should be hasn’t been set to the majority of the world,” Zuckerberg said. Making that new paradigm, he said, is something that “Facebook and our culture and our community are uniquely qualified to do.”
Facebook stock rose on the news, up three percent in the hours after the announcement to more than $27 per share.
(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)
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