Facebook did not release its own phone on Thursday, as some had tipped.
Rather, it previewed "Facebook Home" - software that takes over any Android phone's home screen and lock screen.
But Home (which will be available as a free download) takes things to a whole new level.
You don't have to open any Facebook app to see updates; whenever you glance at your phone, the first thing you'll see is Facebook updates on the lock screen. Unlock it, and you'll see full screen updates. Facebook messaging is also more tightly integrated, and you can Facebook chat whatever other app you're using on your phone. There's even a Facebook Home app launcher (demo'd with icons for Facebook-owned Instagram and Vine). It really is a full-force takeover.
It's a savvy strategy by the social network.
Why manufacture its own handset when Home effectively lets it take over any brand of Android?
But possibly it's a little too front foot.
Initially, only one handset maker - Taiwan's HTC - will support Facebook Home, and only with one of its Android models from Thursday.
And so far only two telcos are supporting it: AT&T in the US and France Telecom (I've asked NZ telcos about their plans and will add updates if/when they come in).
"Supporting" Facebook Home means AT&T and France Telecom will sell HTC First handsets with Facebook Home pre-loaded.
Leading phone makers like Samsung are playing a balancing act. The openess and user-friendliness of Google's Android software has helped them chase down then pass Apple's iPhone in market share. They won't phones that are recognisably Android, but with some of their own software interface frills overlaid. Most already offer an app for integrating all your social media feeds.
Will they want their phones' home screens taken over by Facebook Home? Apparently, they're willing to go there. Facebook says support for Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy Note 2 will be added from April 12.
Unsurprisingly, there's no word of an iPhone version. It's hard to imagine control-freak Apple surrendering control of its home screen to Facebook.
But nor is there any word about Facebook Home support from Android phone makers like Sony, LG, Huawei and Google-owned Motorola (complicating matters, Google has its own social network initiative, Plus, which competes with Facebook. It's easy to imagine that making life easier for Facebook Home users won't be a priority each time it upgrades Android).
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