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Facebook Hijacks Android

It commandeered Google’s Android operating system and overlaid its home screen with an integrated user interface

Facebook Thursday addressed the mobile crisis that erupted when it went public 11 months ago and the two-year-old trend it's among its users who are increasingly tuning into its site from mobile devices rather than PCs.

It commandeered Google's Android operating system and overlaid its home screen with an integrated user interface that's supposed to feel like system software and make the Facebook experience and way of interacting with the device pre-eminent.

It's even got HTC, which has been brutally elbowed aside by the likes of Samsung, putting out a new Android phone called First that embeds the Facebook's new "Home" software.

It'll be available for $100 from AT&T on Friday April 12 with a two-year contract.

Evidently it was AT&T's idea to get HTC involved. But people won't have to buy a new phone to revel in the Facebook experience without resorting to the usual Facebook apps.

If they have one of the latest Samsung and HTC phones they can simply download the Home user interface from Google's Play store or wait for a prompt from an installed Facebook app.

Facebook means to add more models as well as tablets in time. And in time Facebook means to use the interface to display full-screen ads.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has finally lain to rest those rumors that Facebook was coming out with its own phone. Instead he did the next best thing. The Home widgetry will let Facebook users get their friends' notifications, updates and recommendations directly on the screen and it even includes a tool called "chat heads" for instant messaging no matter what apps are in use or chat from the home screen without opening an app. Users can talk to multiple people at the same time.

Facebook will be able track user behavior and if the scheme doesn't catch on, well, there's relatively little harm done. It got HTC to help with the modifications.

Because of the stricter controls over the iPhone, Windows Phone and BlackBerry Facebook won't be able to hijack their screens the way it has with the open source Android. The only way it could do that, Zuckerberg indicated, was in collaboration with those device makers and that ain't about to happen.

Although Home is not a fork, it's hard to imagine Google being any too pleased with this turn of events since Facebook will overshadow its Gmail and web search.

Facebook's got a lot of users with Android phones and can add any number of value-added services. The company reported 680 million active users of its mobile app last year, up 57% from 2011.

Ovum forecasts that social messaging cannibalization of SMS revenues will grow from $32.6 billion in 2013 to over $86 billion in 2020.

Starting April 12 Home can be downloaded for nothing to the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It will also work on the forthcoming HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. It's limited to the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions of Android or version 4.0 and later. HTC's new First phone will be available in black, white, red and pale blue.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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