On Thursday, Facebook is expected to reveal an HTC Android handset running custom software, making the social network the new mobile homescreen—so says a long-running series of rumors. Reports of Facebook developing a branded device with a smartphone manufacturer date back to 2010, but the few descriptions that have surfaced since have provided little info on the long-awaited handset or its software. However, this time may be different. Not only are these rumors tied to a specific event devoted to mobile (Android, specifically), but the most recent leaks have been unusually detailed. Those details shed a little more light on what Facebook will likely unveil tomorrow.
At least part of the smartphone’s home screen will be devoted to information from the user’s Facebook account, according to reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The phone’s core features such as the camera may directly integrate with Facebook, automatically storing and sharing pictures. Facebook’s old standalone apps may also be incorporated into the new software.
[quote_center]THE FACEBOOK PHONE WILL LIKELY BE A MIDRANGE HTC HANDSET[/quote_center]
The general consensus seems to be that Facebook’s software will initially be featured on a specific phone. Reports have suggested a partnership between Facebook and HTC. Upcoming View recently revealed details of a mid-range HTC handset dubbed “Myst” that’s likely to run the new Facebook software, which will be powered by Android 4.1.2. As far as specs go, the device will reportedly have a 4.3-inch, 720p display, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a 5-megapixel camera. A leak yesterday suggests that the phone will officially be called “HTC First” and feature an iPhone-like body.
More importantly, though, the custom software will be able to run on many Android devices, including those from Samsung, HTC, and Google. A leaked build acquired by Android Police confirms that the new software will most likely be called “Home,” and will change the home screen’s look while adding Facebook integration to all major parts of the phone.
[quote_right]USERS ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO USE FACEBOOK’S SERVICES WHEN THEY’RE AT THE CORE OF THE HOME SCREEN, RATHER THAN HIDDEN IN AN APP[/quote_right]
Facebook has already shown the potential for such integration with its standalone apps. Messenger, for example, integrates standard text messages with Facebook’s messaging service, and offers free VOIP calling in the US, Canada, and the UK. These features are likely to be prominent in the new software. After all, users are much more likely to use Facebook’s services when they’re at the core of the home screen, rather than hidden in an app.
The rumors surrounding the “Facebook phone” date from different points in the project’s history, making it difficult to determine which ideas are active and which have been scrapped. The software project reportedly began in response to Google’s Nexus program, shortly before the release of the Nexus One. In 2011, a small partnership between Facebook and HTC resulted in the ChaCha and Salsa, two low-end devices that included a dedicated button to access Facebook. Later that year, AllThingsD reported the phone software project, codenamed “Project Buffy,” was heavily underway, with the product likely arriving in winter or spring of 2013.
[quote_left]ACCORDING TO ZUCKERBERG, A FACEBOOK PHONE “JUST DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE”[/quote_left]
Report after report points toward the project’s existence, but Facebook has consistently denied the rumors. In September 2012, when asked about the possibility of a Facebook phone, Mark Zuckerberg told TechCrunch, “That’s always been the wrong strategy for us,” later adding that the idea of Facebook building a piece of hardware “just doesn’t make any sense.”
Thursday’s announcement may simply be a modest update on Facebook’s mobile strategy, but after so much buildup that would be largely disappointing. If Facebook’s mobile efforts are as substantial as the rumors suggest, its “new home on Android” could embed its products into the the pockets of millions of users. If Facebook’s Android skin is something consumers want to use, its integration would be very hard to beat. If it’s popular enough, other smartphone manufacturers will have to join in as well.