HTC, INQ Mobile Facebook Phones Aim for Social Butterflies

Analysts discuss the viability of INQ Mobile's and HTC's Facebook phones, which seek to improve the Facebook experience for mobile phone users worldwide.

INQ Mobile and HTC made pretty bold bets at Mobile World Congress last week when they introduced what has become to be known as Facebook phones, or handsets that provide super speedy access to the social network.

To be clear, the INQ and HTC handsets won't have the actual Facebook brand and logo on the device. Rather, Facebook's presence is situated on the home screens, with the social network's features and contacts easily available to users.

The INQ Cloud Touch and INQ Cloud Q handsets run Android 2.2 and provide single sign-on and one-touch access to Facebook features. The home screen includes users' Facebook News Feed and links to Chat, Messages, Places and notifications, among other perks.

HTC's ChaCha and Salsa devices run Android 2.3 and go a step further than INQ on the Facebook integration front by offering a dedicated Facebook button to give users one-touch access to their favorite Facebook functions. Among other things, clicking the button allows users to update their status and upload a photo.

Will consumers buy them because of the clear Facebook styling? It's tough to say. INQ Mobile CEO Frank Meehan believes Facebook's 600 million-plus users yearn for these gadgets.

"This audience wants a phone that lives and breathes Facebook, not one that relegates it to a tiny square in the app menu," Meehan told eWEEK in a statement. "We identified this shift in behavior years ago and have been working since then to create devices that use Facebook to drive the communications."

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin, meanwhile, called the HTC gadgets desirable because they are competitive Android smartphones that do a better job of integrating Facebook into the overall experience.

"Though it's just a single button, their software design appears to make the action of that button intuitive, across many different phone applications," Golvin said, adding that the ChaCha and Salsa provide "distinction in a sea of faceless Android devices."

Golvin's point is well met. There are well over 100 Android smartphones to date, with more than 300,000 handsets activated each day in 2011.

INQ may be challenged to move its Cloud devices due to its lack of carrier support in the United States, though HTC has reaped the rewards of selling Android handsets such as the Droid Incredible and Evo 4G in the United States.

However, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney tempered enthusiasm by noting that HTC's Facebook key a secondary issue for most buyers.

"If the phone is great from all other aspects and it has a Facebook key, then it will sell," Dulaney told eWEEK. "I guess it's like a limited edition of a car. Once you get past the collectors, it's about whether the machine is a great car."

And Om Malik, absolutely rebukes the idea of the ChaCha and Salsa as Facebook phones because they lack deep integration with Facebook at the core operating system level.

Even so, both INQ Mobile and HTC expect their respective Facebook-friendly gadgets to drive sales this year.

INQ's Cloud Touch will be available in April at The Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy in the U.K. The INQ Cloud Q will be available in the third quarter from The Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy in the U.K. INQ is mulling a launch in the United States but has no firm plans.

The HTC 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.