While the mythical Facebook-branded phone may never become a reality, HTC yesterday took at least a step in that direction with the launch of the HTC Status, a new Android phone that features deep integration with Facebook. HTC went so far as to announce the new phone, which will be available exclusively from AT&T this summer, with a Facebook page dedicated to the device.
The Status features a BlackBerry-like form factor, with a physical keyboard and a smaller touchscreen above. The phone lets users share just about any content with one touch of a physical Facebook button at the bottom of the phone. HTC Status also features a chat widget that will allow users to see when friends are online and start a live instant chat straight from the device.
"HTC Status brings a Facebook experience to people who want to share their experiences with their friends faster and easier than ever before," said Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC Americas. "With a dedicated Facebook share button combined with the hallmark HTC Sense experience, HTC Status makes it easy for people to stay connected to the things that are important to them."
The Status comes running Android 2.3, with the HTC Sense overlay. Additionally, the Status features a 2.6-inch touch screen, an 800 MHz processor, 512 MB RAM, 5-megapixel main camera with autofocus and VGA front-facing camera for video chat.
The Status highlights the growing faceoff between Google and Facebook, coming as it does in the wake of Google's announcement this week that it is testing a Facebook-like service called Google+ that allows users to share content and information amongst groups.
Google has taken steps with its latest iteration of Android (Gingerbread) that appear to limit the integration of Facebook with Android devices. Specifically, Google removed the ability to merge a Facebook phone directory with the contact directories on the Nexus S and Nexus One, both of which run Gingerbread.
"Since Facebook contacts cannot be exported from the device, the appearance of integration created a false sense of data portability," Google said in explanation of the move.
In November of 2010, Google went so far as to amend its license agreement for its contacts API, stating that developers who access data through Google's Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API for use in their service or application are "agreeing to enable your users to export their contacts data to other services or applications of their choice in a way that's substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts, subject to applicable laws."
Google said it believes in reciprocity among applications, saying there is an expectation that if information can be imported to a service that it should also be able to be exported, which is not the case with Facebook, which only allows for the importing of contacts.
In response to Google's move, Facebook later created a "Find Friends" tab that allows users to download their Google contacts onto their hard drives and import them into Facebook in a single click.
HTC was unavailable for comment as to whether Status will allow the merging of Facebook and Android contacts.
If the Status isn't enough social excitement for AT&T customers, the carrier also yesterday announced an agreement with social games developer Zynga, designed to bring Zynga's portfolio of social games to more AT&T customers. Games such as Words with Friends and Zynga Poker, plus customized content, will be featured for download on AT&T's shelf in Android Market later this year.
AT&T also says its customers will find customized content available within online and mobile social games, plus benefit from free credits in select games and Zynga giveaways at AT&T sponsored events. As part of the relationship, AT&T will work with Zynga to optimize the mobile gaming experience for AT&T customers. The carrier says it will work with Zynga to explore ways to extend device battery life during game play, as well as improve network efficiency for playing.