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April 5, 2013

Facebook introduces smartphone software

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

The new software, which the company calls Home, makes it easier to access Facebook features — such as friends' photos, messages and status updates — on a smartphone's home screen, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said at an event in Menlo Park, Calif.

The application is available starting April 12 on Samsung Electronics and HTC phones that run Google's Android operating system.

Now that the majority of users access Facebook via mobile devices, Zuckerberg needs ways to keep them engaged longer while coaxing advertisers to pay to place promotions on small screens. The company is betting that handsets with Facebook-centric software will do a better job wooing users and marketers than current downloadable applications, Howe said.

"The problem with apps is they're a click away from wherever you are," said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group. "Facebook wants to remove that barrier."

HTC executives announced the HTC First device that will prominently feature Facebook's Home application. Ralph De La Vega, head of AT&T Inc.'s mobile business, said HTC First will run on his company's most advanced wireless network.

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.

Facebook isn't building a smartphone or creating an operating system, Zuckerberg said.

Amazon.com 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 and Google for the attention of smartphone users, Howe said.

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