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4/4/2013
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Facebook Home + HTC First: Not About Hardware

HTC First will be the first smartphone to ship with Facebook Home on board. Its display is the only hardware feature that matters.

 Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
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Facebook, together with AT&T and HTC, announced the HTC First at its Menlo Park campus Thursday. The First is notable because it is the first Android smartphone that will ship with Facebook Home, the social network's new home screen software, on board. The HTC First is no Galaxy S 4 or iPhone 5 killer. It is a mid-range smartphone that has middling specs. And that's okay.

The First features a 4.3-inch 1280-pixel-by-720p HD display. HTC has shipped a number of devices with this screen size and resolution. Although it doesn't quite compare to the full 1080p HD screens of today's best devices, it is far above what many entry-level devices offer. The screen is the one component that is decent -- and there's a good reason for that: Facebook Home wouldn't look all that great on a low-resolution screen. In fact, the initial batch of devices that can support Facebook Home have 720p screens or better. A crummy screen would make the Facebook Home experience just as crummy.

The display is the only hardware feature of the HTC First that matters. Everything else is just an engine to supply the screen with content.

[ Learn more about Facebook Home. Read Facebook Home Wraps Android In Social. ]

Other specs of the device follow the middle of the road. It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. The 400 falls below the 600 and 800 series processors, which are Qualcomm's best. The HTC First has just a 5-megapixel camera, though it can shoot 1080p HD video. The user-facing camera rates 1.3 megapixels. The HTC First is compatible with AT&T's LTE 4G network.

The HTC First is not a stunning achievement in hardware design, and it is not meant to be.

The point of this device is to get Facebook Home in front of people at a reasonable price. The First is available for preorder already and reaches AT&T stores April 12. It costs just $99 with a new contract. There's no word on if or when the First will be made available to other carriers.

Facebook wants people to use Facebook Home. Sure, the software is compatible with several existing high-end devices (HTC One, One X, and One X+; Samsung Galaxy Note II, S 3, and S 4), but it is optional on those devices. Owners of those devices have to want to install Facebook Home. Once they see what it does, they might not like it, and might eventually disable it.

It is highly unlikely HTC and Facebook will let First owners disable Facebook Home. They'll be immersed in it from the get-go, and will be living the Facebook dream right out of the box. Facebook is dying for more engagement. It wants as many eyeballs on its software and services as possible. Facebook Home -- and the HTC First -- are a means to an end.

When asked, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company will not advertise on Facebook Home, at least not right away. He clearly implied that ads are a distinct possibility down the road, though. How does Facebook make money? Ads, at least in part.

The HTC First is a way for Facebook to get a stronger toe-hold on mobile users thanks to Facebook Home.

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