HTC Facebook phones set to challenge BlackBerry, Google

Mobile technology provider HTC has unveiled its ChaCha and Salsa “social phones”, featuring Facebook buttons, at the Mobile World Congress.


The Facebook buttons lead users directly to the social media site or post content to it automatically, with industry experts predicting a wave of other Facebook-integrated phones will come out this year.


ChaCha and Salsa phones run on Google’s Android operating system, with the ChaCha featuring a 2.6-inch display and a full keyboard while the Salsa has a 3.4-inch touch-screen display.


HTC said in a statement the phones were developed in an effort to convert more of Facebook’s 500 million users into HTC customers.


“(The Facebook button is) context-aware, gently pulsing with light whenever there is an opportunity to share content or updates through Facebook,” HTC said.


“You can update your status, upload a photo, share a website, post what song you are listening to, ‘check in’ to a location and more.”


Each phone has a visual news feed scrolling across the top of the screen showing latest updates from the user’s Facebook network.


It doesn’t pull data from all of the user’s contacts, instead using Facebook’s Graph API to surface photos, videos, links and status updates from the user’s closest contacts.


Ovum analyst Nick Dillon says both phones “raise the bar” with regard to mobile implementations of Facebook, posing a threat to other mobile internet devices.


“(HTC’s new phones) could threaten the hegemony of RIM’s wildly popular BlackBerry Messenger … as well as the promise of extending Facebook’s third party apps to mobile for the first time,” Dillon says.


“This deeper level of integration could make the mobile experience of Facebook more compelling than other mobile versions of the application and potentially even more so than the full web version.”


Dillon says the HTC phones highlight the level of opportunity available to hardware providers to differentiate themselves outside of offering their own services.


“It also demonstrates a compelling means by which web application providers can influence buyer behaviour without needing to own or control the software platform on a device themselves,” he says.


Dillon says Google is presumably unhappy that HTC is using its Android platform to provide an improved experience and greater access to one of its rivals.


“If Google does ever seek to exert greater control over the Android platform we would imagine that this could be a trigger point for it,” he says.


Ovum principal analyst Eden Zoller describes Google’s “fragmented” social media strategy as a weak spot given the importance of social media as an advertising platform.


“And given Google’s push on mobile location-based services, it seems a lost opportunity not to leverage this in ways that exploit social commerce,” Zoller says.


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