Facebook on Thursday unveiled its long-rumored mobile phone foray, in a grab for greater mobile ad dollars that puts the social network's services front and center on the home screen.
The social giant unveiled an Android download that can transform mobile phones to feature on home screens its family of Facebook apps, without clicking into apps, along with a phone coming from HTC.
"You're going to be able to turn your Android phone into a great social phone," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a press conference at the company's headquarters here. "We're calling this Home."
Facebook will launch with HTC a phone called the First, which will run on AT&T and is now available for pre-order at $99.99 to ship April 12. People using phones powered by Android will be able to download the Facebook Home look on that date.
"You have a great Facebook experience," says Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, who discussed the AT&T partnership.
Deeper hooks into mobile phones could land more mobile ad revenue for Facebook, a key area of growth as users increasingly come from mobile.
What Facebook is doing is creating what it calls "Cover Feed" on the home screen of mobile phones that allows people to immediately swipe into Facebook updates and double-click to "like" items or begin commenting. The move also gives messaging more attention with what Facebook calls Chat Heads -- friends' mug shots that appear on the home screen for the user to engage with at a tap or dismiss with a swipe.
Facebook is expected to make $1.5 billion from mobile ads this year worldwide, according to eMarketer. That's up from $471 million last year. The research firm forecasts the social network will haul in $2.7 billion in mobile ad revenue in 2014.
"It is a necessity to be more visible to the consumer," says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Facebook is planning to launch Home on tablets in several months. The new experience will not be available for Apple's iOS devices.
The Android launch from Facebook comes as speculation mounts for a summer release of another iPhone. Not to mention, Samsung's Galaxy S4 is expected to be available around the end of the month, and HTC's One is slated for this month amid a wave of consumer options including BlackBerry's Q10, expected this month or next.
Facebook's download will first work on the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II as well as the HTC First. The Home download will also be available on the upcoming Galaxy S4 and HTC One. More devices will follow.
"It's all about connecting with other people," says HTC CEO Peter Chou. "It's a great opportunity to bring mobile and social together."
The HTC phones will be available in red, white, blue and black.
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