Facebook speculation turns to launcher, HTC partnership

Leaked images show a home screen launcher for Android-based smartphones

News leaks and speculation are pointing to a launcher for Android smartphones as the mysterious announcement expected from Facebook on Thursday.

Android Police published reportedly leaked images that appear to show that Facebook is teaming up with phone maker HTC Corp., and using its latest phone to show off a Facebook-focused home screen for Android smartphones.

Based on what the images show, the smartphone is likely to provide Facebook's new launcher, a home screen and app drawer setup for a smartphone.

Smartphones generally ship with whatever home screen or launcher the phone maker creates. This launcher, if that's what Facebook's announcement is about, would be Facebook focused, making it faster and easier for users to access the social network on the go.

Facebook has not said what it will announce Thursday, except that it's about Android, the mobile operating system from Google. The invitation to the press for the 1 p.m. ET announcement reads: "Come See Our New Home on Android."

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that the company has no plans to develop its own phone, despite rumors to the contrary.

However, a Facebook launcher on an HTC smartphone, if the reports are accurate, would make a good fit. A launcher would help the social network take advantage of its growing mobile user base, while avoiding the need to get into the hardware business.

"Strategically, this makes sense for Facebook, as they need to control more of their mobile destiny," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "Partnering with HTC make a lot more sense than doing a complete phone, because they can put most of the resources and risk onto HTC."

A partnership with Facebook also would make sense for HTC, which has been struggling in the competitive smartphone market and could use the attention that a deal with Facebook could produce.

HTC has been trying to prop up its lagging global market share with new smartphones, having dropped half of its market share in 2012 from 2011 to less than 5%.

The company's recent launch of the HTC One, to be sold in the U.S. on April 19 on AT&T and Sprint, could be boosted by a partnership with Facebook.

However, Moorhead noted that a launcher would have to be well-planned and designed. If it looks too busy or is overbearing, it could drive users away from Facebook instead of pulling them in.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said the wireless industry is more complicated than many people, and companies, think. Facebook may have a big job on its hands if it wants to try a launcher that people will love and use to dig deeper into the site.

"The question right now is simple. Is this the time? Yes," he said. "But that does not mean it will be successful. The market is ready if Facebook can get the recipe right. We'll see."

Kagan, added that the speculation of a launcher announcement could be off base, and Facebook could have a different surprise up its sleeve.

Computerworld Senior Editor Matt Hamblen contributed to this report.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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