facebook mark zuckerberg Credit: Kris Krug/Flickr

Facebook wants to replace the conventional Android homescreen with its own application. HTC will deliver the first phone with the new app, but other manufacturers are in the pipeline.

On Thursday, Facebook sent out invitations to an Android-centric event scheduled for April 4. Speculation has been simmering since then, with most reports suggesting that the fabled “Facebook phone” is a collaboration between the social networking giant and HTC. Supporting this theory is a recent FCC application for the HTC “Myst”, which has been long rumored to be the Facebook phone.

The Wall Street Journal has chimed in with a report revealing a few interesting aspects. First, HTC will indeed deliver the first phone running a Facebook-focused version of Android, but Mark Zuckerberg’s company is negotiating with other manufacturers to bring the software to more devices. The revelation comes from people familiar with the matter, who added that the move is meant to increase the amount of time that people spend on the sprawling social network, or “putting Facebook first.”

Rather than taking over the OS, as Amazon did on its Kindle tablets, Facebook appears to have created an app that plugs into Android, and replaces the conventional homescreen with content from the user’s social feed. Instead of having to click an icon to launch the Facebook app, the user will simply switch on the device and glance at the screen. To make this customization possible, the manufacturer has to make some modifications to the OS, but they wouldn’t be major, said the WSJ’s sources. Adding credence to the report is the tagline of the event announced yesterday – “Come see our new home on Android”. The “home” could refer to the homescreen.

Such an approach would make more sense than the fork theory for one important reason. HTC is a member of the Open Handset Alliance, which brings together those interested in developing Android. To be a member of the organization (and to collaborate with Google), HTC has pledged not to fork Android or work with third parties that are forking Android. Google has flexed its muscles before when it comes to this issue, with the most public example being the Alibaba Android fork that Acer was forced to stop supporting. If Facebook was forking Android, HTC would jeopardize its relationship with Google for a very dubious benefit. Minor customizations, on the other hand, would let HTC work with Facebook without drawing Google’s ire.

From my understanding, the app that Facebook is preparing could behave a lot like HTC’s own BlinkFeed feature. But instead of collecting news streams and social feeds like BlinkFeed does, the app would serve Facebook-centric information, like comments, wall posts, and messages.

We’ll see the full shebang in less than a week. Stay tuned!

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