Facebook on Thursday evening released invitations for an important event at its Menlo Park, Calif.-based headquarters for members of the press to "come see our new home on Android" on April 4. Facebook observers believe the company will introduce a new HTC handset running an an "altered version" of the Android operating system built by Facebook.
While it's possible Facebook could simply be announcing redesigned Android applications for smartphones and tablets, alleged sources told TechCrunch that Facebook will unveil "a modified version of the Android operating system with deep native Facebook functionality on the homescreen that may live on the HTC handset."
"The evidence aligns to say this is the Facebook phone announcement people have been speculating about for years," TechCrunch's Josh Constine said.
The same sources who said "to be on the lookout" for an April press event that would center on Facebook's mobile platform also said the new "Facebook phone" will be released as a full "application layer" between the user and other facets of the Android OS, rather than being a full rewrite of Android as some were expecting a Facebook phone to include.
Similar to Facebook's integration in iOS 6 that lets iPhone and iPad users add Facebook friends to their iOS Contacts list and Facebook events to their Calendars, the Facebook-powered HTC phone is said to rely heavily on Facebook features and display them prominently. For example, one might see Facebook newsfeed stories shown on the phone's home screen, along with easy access to Facebook apps like Facebook Messenger, which is used for texting.
This particular partnership among Facebook, Android and HTC is reportedly called "Facebook Home." (Does the invitation make sense now?)
The official announcement from Facebook confirms reports about the Facebook phone that date back to 2011, including early reports that mentioned a joint project between Facebook and HTC. On Friday, 9to5Google said Facebook and HTC are currently prepping their joint ad campaign, for which one of the tag lines is "more than just an app."
Of course, a smartphone project with HTC makes a great deal of sense for Facebook -- on several occasions, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said mobile is the most important area for growth for Facebook, and if he could've rebuilt his application from scratch, he would have made it an exclusively mobile platform.
By working with HTC, Facebook can learn more about its mobile users and how best to reach them by collecting hard data about them and their app usage. Facebook knows that data is power, but it also knows that manufacturing a smartphone is an extremely costly endeavor best left to the specialist companies that are established and experienced. Facebook may still want to build a phone, but the social media giant is first and foremost a software company, and creating an operating system and designing a smartphone are two completely separate projects.
At this particular juncture, Zuckerberg doesn't have time to spend on hardware design; creating and releasing software services and products that can be used immediately are far more important to the company.