Facebook unveils new smartphone software

Software will integrate the social network more completely with Android mobiles

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiling new product for Android called Facebook Home today. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiling new product for Android called Facebook Home today. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 18:57

Facebook today unveiled smartphone software that puts social-networking features front and centre on a handset, stepping up efforts to boost sales of advertising on small screens.

The “Home” software will integrate the social network more completely with Android users' smartphones, a move that may divert users from Google services and steal some of its rival’s momentum in the fast-growing mobile arena.

The new software puts photos and updates from friends on a smartphone’s home screen, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said at an event in Menlo Park, California.

The software, a version of Google’s Android operating system, also boasts improved messaging tools, Mr Zuckerberg said.

Now that the majority of users access Facebook via mobile devices, Mr Zuckerberg needs ways to keep them engaged longer while coaxing advertisers to pay to place promotions on small screens.

Adam Leach, a principal device analyst at Ovum said Facebook wants to increase its engagement with its users and in particular its users accessing the service over mobile.

“To achieve this Facebook needs a mechanism to deliver its own services to a portfolio of devices. If this can be achieved with an Android Facebook skin or a co-branded phone then this will be better for Facebook as it avoids upsetting its current phone and platform partners and removes the immediate need to launch its own branded devices.”

The company is betting that a handset with Facebook-centric software will do a better job wooing users and marketers than the current approach, which emphasizes a downloadable application, Carl Howe said.

“The problem with apps is they’re a click away from wherever you are," according to Mr Howe, who is an analyst at Yankee Group. "Facebook wants to remove that barrier.”

Facebook shares rose about 1 per cent to $26.61 at shortly before lunchtime in New York.

A new Facebook-enabled handset follows earlier forays into mobile devices for the social-networking service. HTC began selling ChaCha, an Android-based phone with a dedicated Facebook button to share music, photos and messages, in 2011. INQ Mobile and Facebook that year also unveiled a phone with close integration of services, such as wall postings and photos.

While those devices have won over some die-hard Facebook fans, widespread adoption has been limited, according to Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner.

Bloomberg, Reuters