SAN FRANCISCO —
But Facebook could not ignore its shortcomings in mobile once newcomers such as Instagram emerged as competitive threats, especially for the attention of younger people.
As the company marched toward its initial public stock offering in May 2012, doubts grew over Facebook’s ability to make money from users on mobile devices, dashing its debut as a publicly traded company.
Since then, Facebook has poured considerable resources into building its mobile business. It has deployed hundreds of engineers to code mobile projects. It rolled out new mobile advertising formats and new mobile apps such as Poke, and overhauled its iPhone and Android apps. Facebook also stepped up its focus on Android, which in recent years has surpassed the iPhone to become the No. 1 operating system for smartphones around the world.
At the end of last year, the number of active daily users accessing Facebook on a mobile device exceeded the number logging on from desktop computers for the first time. More than 650 million of its more than 1 billion users check Facebook from mobile devices — and that number is growing fastest in big markets such as the United States.
“Today there is no argument: Facebook is a mobile company,” co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in January.
Speculation about a Facebook phone has circulated in Silicon Valley for years. Zuckerberg has consistently denied reports that his company would get into the hardware business, saying it would be “the wrong strategy.” But Facebook left open the possibility of forming deeper ties with handset makers and mobile carriers.
“Facebook’s goal is to get its stuff in front of as many people as possible,” IDC analyst Karsten Weide said.
The HTC phone is powered by a modified version of Google’s Android mobile software. If successful, the HTC phone could be the first of many, analysts said.
“This is a way to get the distribution that they would have gotten through their own smartphone by partnering with somebody else,” Weide said.
Facebook is also reportedly making the software available as an Android app for anyone to download. The big question is whether there will be demand for a Facebook phone when mobile users already are so accustomed to checking Facebook on mobile apps.