Facebook Teams with INQ, ATandT on Android Phones

Facebook is working with INQ Mobile on two smartphones that use Google's Android operating system, according to Bloomberg. The handsets will be rolled out in Europe in the first half of 2011 and the U.S. in the second half.

Facebook is working with INQ Mobile on two social networking smartphones based on Google's Android operating system, the latest step in the weeklong rumor about a so-called Facebook phone.

TechCrunch reported Sept. 1 that Facebook was building a mobile phone operating system that would compete with Apple's iPhone iOS and Google's Android platform.

Facebook denied this was the case, citing partnerships and deep integrations with numerous parties.

Bloomberg reported Sept. 23 that Facebook is actually working with INQ, which launched its INQ1 "Facebook phone" in October 2009, and possibly No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier AT&T.

"We've been working with INQ for a couple of years now to help them build a deeply integrated Facebook experience on their devices," Facebook told Bloomberg. "While we can't speak for their future product development plans, we can say that our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social."

Just as the INQ 1 was tailor-made for Facebook and other social network access, the new devices will feature Facebook's social services and will be rolled out in Europe in the first half of 2011 and in the United States in the latter half of the year.

Bloomberg said AT&T hasn't decided whether or not to carry the devices, which would be geared to help Facebook extend its mobile user base beyond its current 100-plus million total, in the United States.

Any Android devices would compete with Apple's wildly popular iPhone, but especially on AT&T, which carries the iPhone on an exclusive basis.

The devices are a far cry from Facebook building a separate operating system to compete with Apple, Google, Microsoft and others in the market.

"Every phone is a Facebook phone or will be-people are increasingly updating their social activities on the go and not just when they're sitting at a PC," Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray told eWEEK.

"Facebook already is part of every smartphone and mobile platform, so if Facebook were to launch its own phone it would be much more a branding decision than a technical one."

The world, he added, is not asking for a Facebook phone, and there is no compelling technical reason for Facebook to have its own phone.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told TechCrunch his company is not building any specific Facebook device, adding that his goal is not to compete with the iPhone and Android.

"Because we're not trying to compete with Apple or the Droid or any other hardware manufacturer for that matter ... we're trying to build a social layer for everything. Basically we're trying to make it so that every app everywhere can be social whether it's on the Web, or mobile, or other devices."