Facebook spent most of its time Thursday talking about its new Facebook Home software that puts FB at the center of the Android operating system.
However, the company also announced the long-rumored “Facebook phone,” a new smartphone with HTC (2498) that will be the first to use Home.
The appropriately named HTC First will be available in four different colors – black, white, red and pale blue – and will launch exclusively on AT&T April 12.
For $99.99, the device comes with a 4.3-inch display, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Facebook Home and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 dual core processor.
The new FB phone could find a receptive audience among the under-25 crowd, which is comfortable with having their mobile devices in reach at all times.
Facebook chafes at suggestions that younger users are leaving the social network, so a phone immersed in news updates and other FB features might do well.
The impetus is not hard to find. Facebook, the No. 2 mobile-ad publisher in the U.S. behind Google, last year accounted for 9.5% of the $4.1 billion mobile ad market.
It’s expected to take 13% of the $7.3 billion market this year.
A phone could “hard wire” the Facebook experience on a mobile device, increasing consumers’ time on the service, analysts say, but there’s a risk too.
The experience has to be more than just a branded device, they say.
“It can’t be just about the hardware,” says analyst Phillip Redman.
“It can do two things for success: Change the business model and give it away to its best users; or design it for low-cost or no-cost calls among Facebook friends.”
Facebook’s entry is one in a glut of recent smartphone contestants, but no other boasts 1 billion members, 30 percent of which are mobile-only users.