Facebook today unveiled new software that makes the social network front and center on any smartphone.
The Facebook software is called “Home” because it resides on the home screen of Android phones. Facebook features such as photos, messages and status updates can all be easily accessed from from a smartphone’s home screen.
At a launch event at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the goal is to put “people before apps.”
Facebook’s moves coincides with rapid growth among the number of users who access the social network from smartphones and tablet computers and Facebook’s aim to evolve from its Web-based roots into a “mobile-first” company. At this point, the majority of Facebook users access the social network via mobile devices. That means Facebook needs ways to keep them engaged longer while coaxing advertisers to pay to place promotions on small screens. 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, said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group said.
“The problem with apps is they’re a click away from wherever you are,”Howe said. “Facebook wants to remove that barrier.”
Facebook isn’t building a smartphone or creating an operating system, Zuckerberg said. Amazon.com Inc. uses a version of Android in the Kindle Fire tablet. In Amazon’s case, that means bypassing Google’s preloaded applications, such as Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube, which generate revenue for Google.
Software crafted by Facebook will more prominently display the social network on handsets and could challenge competitors such as Apple Inc. and Google for the attention of smartphone users, Howe said.
“They’re not as mobile focused as Apple and Google are,” Howe said in an interview. “They need to play catch up.”
While the iPhone operating system is controlled exclusively by Apple, Google provides more flexibility with Android. Companies can take older versions of the software and customize it for their own services and preferences.
Home can be downloaded for use on phones that use Google’s Android operating system. The software will also be available pre-loaded on a new line of HTC smartphones. The phones will be available from AT&T on April 12. But AT&T is taking pre-orders on the phones starting today.
Home will have monthly updates, can be installed from Google Play, Google’s online app store, and will be available on tablets in the coming months, Facebook said.
(Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this report)