Facebook Cheers INQ Cloud, HTC ChaCha, Salsa Smartphones

Facebook said it worked closely with INQ Mobile on the Cloud Touch and Cloud Q, and with HTC on the ChaCha and Salsa phones that boost the social-network experience for users.

Facebook Feb. 15 acknowledged that it had worked with INQ Mobile and HTC to help the phone makers deliver so-called Facebook phones, or handsets optimized for the 600 million-plus users of the social network.

The company, which last September denied it was building its own Facebook-branded phone, also said consumers can expect to see more of these devices proliferate in the market.

INQ Mobile Feb. 9 introduced its INQ Cloud Touch and INQ Cloud Q handsets, two Android 2.2 smartphones that provide single sign-on and one-touch access to Facebook features.

The home screen sports users' Facebook News Feed and quick links to Chat, Messages, Places and notifications. Users may also check in to Places from the home screen.

The devices, which will be available in Europe, were displayed Feb. 15 at Mobile World Congress, where HTC also unveiled its ChaCha and Salsa "Facebook phones."

These Android 2.3 gadgets offer a dedicated Facebook button to give users one-touch access to their favorite Facebook functions, allowing them to update their status, upload a photo, share a news article and check in to Places. When users make a call, the screen displays their friends' Facebook status updates and photos.

The ChaCha and Salsa will be available to customers across major European and Asian markets during the second quarter of 2011, with AT&T bringing them to the United States later in the year.

Facebook mobile engineer Charles Wu acknowledged Facebook has "been working with several application developers, operators and hardware manufacturers from the mobile industry."

"In addition to these new phones from INQ and HTC, you'll also be seeing similar deep Facebook integration on dozens of other devices over the course of this year," Wu said in a blog post.

"Some manufacturers will be highlighting Facebook as a part of their phones' on-screen interfaces, and others will use our brand as an element of the device hardware itself."

What is clear at this point is that Facebook is not building its own phone, a rumor triggered by TechCrunch and Bloomberg last year.

The jury is still out on whether users want a phone with dedicated Facebook streams and buttons, but in the context of any other feature, such as video chat and games, the Facebook brand could push people to the gadgets from INQ Mobile and HTC.