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Rumor Roundup: The 3-year history of the fabled ‘Facebook Phone’ (Updated)

Facebook Phone

One of the most enduring smartphone-related rumors could finally come to an end this week, as Facebook has something new to show us on April 4. Exactly what this is remains a mystery for now, but the social network has given us a clue by saying we’re going to see its, “New Home on Android.” What could it mean? Well, talk of a Facebook phone has been circulating for some years, and although we’ve seen phones which bring Facebook connectivity to the forefront – the HTC ChaCha/Status and the stillborn INQ Cloud Touch, for example – a true Facebook phone has never appeared.

So, in anticipation for the big reveal later this week, here’s a roundup of the many rumors surrounding the now almost legendary Facebook Phone.

It’s the rumor that keeps on giving

How long have people been taking about a Facebook phone, you ask? Well, my friend, it’s been years. It all started with a TechCrunch article in September 2010, when it was leaked that the social network was creating software to run on a smartphone built by a third party. At the time, apart from news of the project itself, there was very little else to go on.

In early 2011, HTC was linked with the project, and rumor was that it was building two phones with Facebook integration. This would turn into the HTC ChaCha/Status and the HTC Salsa, two phones with Facebook buttons that glowed when there was the option of sharing whatever you were doing on Facebook, plus a subtly tweaked version of Android 2.4.

The release of these phones didn’t signify the end of HTC’s involvement with Facebook either. In November 2011, AllThingsD reported the company was working with Facebook on a new phone codename Buffy. Details were scarce, but it would apparently run a modified version of Android, integrate all Facebook’s popular services and support HTML5 apps.

htc statusThe denials

When rumors this rich regularly turn up, it usually ends up in a device or software announcement of some sort. For proof, check out other rumor that refused to die, like Sony’s PlayStation phone, which eventually became the Xperia Play. However, in the case of the Facebook Phone, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the company has repeatedly denied it has any intention of releasing such a product.

Following TechCrunch’s original piece, Facebook said the report was inaccurate, and that it wasn’t building a phone. A similar line was then used for sometime, such as during a company earnings call in mid-2012, and again in early 2013. The message was clear, “We’re not going to build a phone.”

Buffy, Opera, and Myst

Zuckerberg’s words are almost certainly true, and as he has said himself on several occasions, Facebook isn’t a hardware company. But HTC is, and aside from the aforementioned dance-related trio, it has been linked with a selection of other potential Facebook phones over the years.

Presumably part of the Buffy project, the HTC Opera UL was leaked in late 2012, boasting a 720p screen, an Adreno 305 graphics chip and Android 4.1.1 as its operating system. The Opera then turned up in a massive list of leaked HTC codenames, adding fuel to the rumor that at the very least, a phone with that codename did indeed exist.

The Opera was soon joined or replaced by the HTC Myst, a phone about which we know a little more. Apparently, the Myst will have a 4.3-inch 720p screen, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 4G LTE, 16GB of storage, a 5-megapixel camera on the rear and a 1.6-megapixel video-call lens, plus Android 4.1.2.

A new version of Android, or a glorified app?

While talk of the Buffy/Opera/Myst hardware is interesting, Facebook’s event is not likely to concentrate on a phone, but rather the software which will run on it. While we can dream of a modified version of Android, much like Amazon’s software on the Kindle, the latest reports indicate Facebook’s software is an app-like homescreen replacement system.

Android fan blog Android Police claims to have in its possession a copy of the software, which although it can’t be accessed by anyone who doesn’t work for Facebook, appears to be launcher-style app to be installed over HTC Sense 4.5. The blog also says it’s able to operate over stock Android and Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, leading it to believe a copy will be available to download through Google Play. Additionally, the software also contains evidence of the HTC Myst, and confirms the specification published above.

What will Facebook’s Android software contain?

Logically, everything you normally do on Facebook along with all the apps will be quick and easy to access, from updating your status to sharing pictures, to using Facebook Messenger and an iOS-style Facebook Camera app. As Instagram is owned by Facebook it’s logical to expect the photo-sharing network to be incorporated, too. Imagine the Facebook app you already use being active all the time, and as prominent as your existing homescreen.

It’s telling that the social network began allowing free calls on Facebook Messenger in the UK this past week (it joins the U.S. and Canada), and promises more countries will come soon. Placing calls through Facebook is similar to using Skype, which also uses Wi-Fi or a data connection, and it could be an integral part of Facebook’s new platform.

The software is about, “Putting Facebook first,” said one anonymous source speaking to the Wall Street Journal, and the company has been working hard to boost revenue from mobile for a while, as 650 million of its users access the site using a mobile device. What does this really mean? Well, it almost certainly means advertisements, but how many and how annoying they will be remains to be seen.

If you want a hint as to how Facebook will be promoting its new software, and the reasons behind building it, take a look at this news release for an IDC study it has sponsored. Apparently, “Mobile and social are together driving greater connectedness – and having a huge impact on our lives,” and it finds, “People have a universal desire to share and connect with friends at all hours of the day.” Sounds like the opening lines to a press conference to us.

All will be revealed April 4

So, while the HTC Myst seems like the phone on which Facebook’s new software will debut, it’s not certain we’ll see it during the event. If not, and Facebook’s new software is more standalone app than complete Kindle-style OS, there’s a good chance it’ll appear in Google Play first.

We’ll bring you all the news during and after the event on April 4, but keep checking back here in the meantime, as we’ll be updating this post should any more news emerge beforehand.

Updated on April 3 2013 at 04:15am by Andy: The Facebook Phone could have been leaked under the name of the HTC First, an iPhone-like device which may come in several different colors, and be aimed at the lower end of the market. Whether it’ll be launched at Facebook’s event, or at another time, remains unclear at the time of writing.

Update #2 on April 4 2013 at 05:00am by Andy: Just hours ahead of the launch event, a new leak has given us a glimpse of Facebook Home’s design. As expected, it’s packed with shortcuts to Facebook features, along with quick access to location check-ins, photo sharing and status update tools. We’ll find out soon if the leak is accurate.

Article originally published on April 1 at 3:00pm.

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