Handset makers scrambling to make Facebook a central part of their device (Photo update)

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The Independent Tech

( Updated with photo, additional info for HTC phones) Facebook has become such an integral part of people's lives that handset makers are leaping over each other to feature the social networking site on their mobile devices.

Almost every company releasing a mobile pone these days lauds easy access to social networking site Facebook as a major feature of their device but handset makers are now taking the trend further with a craze that has given birth to a number of new social networking handsets dubbed "Facebook phones."

In the days leading up to Mobile World Congress (MWC), London-based social mobile company INQ introduced two new Android-powered Facebook phones: the INQ Touch and the INQ Cloud Q.

Both devices were developed in collaboration with Facebook and feature new mobile apps that put social networking at the forefront of the user experience.

Facebook's newsfeed appears directly on the homescreens of INQ's Facebook phones meaning users can instantly see video, pictures, web pages and posts added by their friends when they look at the device.

"We started the 'Social Mobile' category 3 years ago with the Skypephone and INQ1, as we believed integrating the internet was the future of mobile," said Frank Meehan, INQ's CEO.

"Since then, Facebook has evolved from a social network to become an incredibly powerful global communications platform. Speed and simplicity of access to things you love is our DNA, so our next step is to make it even easier for people to experience the richness of Facebook - all from the homescreen."

HTC announced two Facebook phones during Mobile World Congress: the HTC ChaCha and HTC Salsa.

The devices - one of which is a QWERTY candybar form factor "à la the Motorola Droid" while the other is a "more traditional touchscreen slate" - both have dedicated Facebook buttons.

"[T]he new HTC ChaCha and Salsa offer special new ways to experience Facebook on a mobile device," said Peter Chou, CEO of HTC Corporation in a February 15 statement to the press.

"With more than 500 million active users worldwide, Facebook has become synonymous with the social web and we wanted to create the ultimate socially connected phones with mass market appeal." 

It's not just smartphone manufacturers that are friending Facebook. Security company Gemalto has developed a SIM card that enables any user with any handset - even those without a data connection or subscription - to access Facebook on their mobile phone.

The Facebook for SIM is "compatible with 100% of SIM-compliant mobile phones," said Gemalto in a February 14 press release and provides users with core Facebook features via SMS technology.

"No data contract or application download is needed, because the software is embedded in the SIM," said Gemalto, adding that "[f]ollowing an initial limited free trial period, Facebook for SIM then operates on a subscription model via an unlimited pass for a given period of time."

"SMS data charges that follow will be decided and announced by individual operators," said Gemalto in an February 16 email to Relaxnews.

While Facebook has actively worked with mobile makers to deeply integrate its social networking service, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said there are no plans to make a "Twitter phone."

During a speech at Mobile World Congress, technology website Paid Content reports that Costolo said, "I believe there is a need [to better integrate] Twitter in existing platforms for phones, but not for a Twitter-branded smartphone."

Facebook has embrased handset maker's requests to integrate its social network deep into the user interface on mobile handsets.

Facebook engineer Charles Wu revealed these devices are the first of many "Facebook phones" consumers will see in the market before the end of the year in a February 16 post on the Facebook blog.

"In addition to these new phones from INQ and HTC, you'll also be seeing similar deep Facebook integration on dozens of other devices over the course of this year. Some manufacturers will be highlighting Facebook as a part of their phones' on-screen interfaces, and others will use our brand as an element of the device hardware itself," said Wu.

The INQ Cloud Touch will be available in the second quarter of 2011 while the INQ Cloud Q is set for a third quarter release. Both phones will be marketed at "affordable prices for the mass market," said INQ.

The HTC ChaCha and HTC Salsa smartphones will arrive in Europe and Asia during the second quarter of 2011 with a US launch later in the year.