Speculation about a “Facebook phone” sparked almost as soon as the media invites hit inboxes, giving new life to a very persistent rumor. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear in the past that he’s not interested in manufacturing a phone, but the company has worked with HTC in the past to bring a Facebook-integrated phone to the market, the HTC Status. The Status, released in 2011, had a dedicated Facebook button to get to the network fast and a full QWERTY keyboard for easy updating, but didn’t take off with Facebook users.
Most analysts are expecting to see a similar partnership from Facebook Thursday, though with a much stronger software focus. The company is expected to announce that its network can be integrated into the home screen of Android phones — making it even easier to send updates, post pictures and share information to the network directly from mobile phones.
Mobile has been a main focus for the social network, particularly as its audience has shifted from accessing the site on their desktops and laptops to sharing with their friends on their smartphones. With suspicion that Facebook is losing its cool factor among teenage users, the company is wise to make it easy to access its site on the devices young people use the most to keep its growth going.
In a note sent ahead of the launch, Analysys Mason analysts Ronan de Renesse and Stephen Sale said that becoming “native” to popular phone models gives Facebook a key way to get users to spend even more time with the network.
Apps that come already installed on users’ phones at the time of purchase, they said, make up two-thirds of daily smartphone use, meaning Facebook’s integration could spell much more mobile traffic for the company. Plus, analysts said, Facebook will be in good shape if it can somehow get its existing messaging and Internet calling services to replace or act with the core messaging and call functions on a normal smartphone.
Reports are somewhat mixed when it comes to speculating which phones will get the deep integration. The New York Times reported that HTC would again be Facebook’s phone partner, citing two unnamed “people briefed on the announcement,” and adding that core features such as the phone’s camera would be built around Facebook’s network.
The Wall Street Journal reported, however, that while HTC may be Facebook’s first partner it certainly won’t be its last. According to an unnamed “person briefed on the matter,” the social network is planning to make the integration available to all Android makers somewhere down the road.
As for what the Facebook integration will actually look like, 9to5Google posted “leaked” images of the user interface, saying that the design has a “minimalist aesthetic” and a heavy “focus on full-screen photography.” Users will be able to link to Facebook functions such as messaging and Instagram from most of the phone’s menus, the report said, meaning that users shouldn’t have to fire up Facebook’s app that often. 9to5Google also reported that the phone may be called HTC First — a name that ties nicely to the smartphone maker’s flagship phone of the season, the One.
(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)