New phone by Facebook to showcase its network

Facebook plans to unveil the first smartphone created to showcase its social network.

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: March 31, 2013 12:37 am

Facebook users post more photos,write more status updates and hit the like button more often from mobile devices than they do from computers. So it was almost inevitable that Facebook would introduce a smartphone that put its social network front and center.

On Thursday,Facebook plans to unveil the first smartphone created to showcase its social network. The phone,made by HTC,uses a version of Google’s Android,according to two people briefed on the announcement,which will be made at a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park,Calif.

The software is designed so that some of the core features of the phone,like the camera,will be built around Facebook’s services,according to one of the people,who is a Facebook employee. Both people briefed on Facebook’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the product before the formal announcement.

Derick Mains,a Facebook spokesman,declined to share details of the event. But he said it would be a “significant mobile-focused announcement.” The invitation sent to members of the news media says,“Come see our new home on Android.”

For Facebook and any other online business that is supported by ads,mobile is a tough puzzle to crack. It is difficult to get people to look at advertisements on smaller screens,where display space is limited,without becoming too intrusive.

Facebook’s business strategy is to persuade people to congregate around its social network as much as possible and eventually show them more ads. That is why,over the last year,Facebook has been revamping its organization to be “mobile first.” Every team at Facebook is involved somehow in its mobile products. And the company has recruited engineers who specialize in mobile phone development,including former Apple employees who worked on the development of the iPhone.

The Facebook employee familiar with the announcement said that when the Facebook phone is turned on,it will immediately display a Facebook user’s home screen. A phone with a strong Facebook focus would prompt customers to use Facebook more than competing apps and services. But the success of such a device would depend on how much support the handset received from wireless carriers,said Chetan Sharma,an independent telecommunications analyst who consults for carriers. The carriers can choose which devices are sold in their stores,as well as how prominently to promote them.

“Unless the phone is in front of the consumers in stores,it’s hard to see how it will gain traction,” Sharma said.

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