Facebook to increase its mobile focus

Facebook is planning to increase its focus on mobile phones as a platform for growth, its founder said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Techcrunch, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that the social networking company would not look to manufacture its own hardware or operating system, but would work closely with a wide range of partners to embed Facebook features into mobile phones.

That could include making Facebook’s own customised version of Google’s Android software for smartphones, he said, adding that the company was in discussions with third parties about “deep integration” and collaborative marketing.

But he sought to play down reports that Facebook would challenge Apple or Google head-on.

“Our goal is to have Facebook be everywhere and everything be social rather than a specific device,” Mr Zuckerberg told Techcrunch. “The web is only at one and a half billion people whereas everyone is going to have a phone and all the phones are going to be smartphones … Our goal [on mobile] is breadth not depth.”

Making access to Facebook easier on hand-held devices will be crucial for adding users in emerging markets, where the mobile internet is “leapfrogging” web access on desktop PCs.

The site, which has more than 500m active users worldwide and is targeting 1bn within the coming years, already makes features including messaging, photo-sharing and its live news feed available through apps on devices such as Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry and smartphones running Google’s Android system. Dozens of mobile operators also allow their customers free access to a low-resolution version, called Facebook Zero.

Techcrunch, and other news outlets had reported earlier in the week that Facebook was “secretly building” on its own phone, something Facebook initially denied.

Mr Zuckerberg said that Facebook would continue to develop its apps for iPhone and Android, but increasingly look to HTML5, the latest version of the programming language in which web pages are written, as a way to make itself available on other devices, such as BlackBerry, which he said was a lower priority.

“So for iPhone, we built in contact syncing, and for Android we integrated and did contact syncing pretty seamlessly,” he said. “The question is – what could we do if we also started hacking at a deeper level, and that is a lot of the stuff that we’re thinking about.”

By bundling its services more tightly into a mobile software, Facebook could make it easier for users to stay signed into its services, and therefore access the wide range of third-party applications that run on its platform, he said.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that Facebook was working with INQ, a mobile phone maker, on a device that would run on the AT&T network, but may not be branded by Facebook. INQ and Facebook both count Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, the telecoms group, as an investor. INQ declined to comment on reports that it was working with Facebook on a device earlier this week.

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