Facebook today announced that AT&T and France Telecom/Orange are the first two carriers to be part of its Facebook Home partnership program to develop devices with the social network’s new integrated user experience, which will kick off with the a 4G phone, the HTC First. AT&T will be offering it as an exclusive in the U.S. at a price of $99.99 with preorders starting today. HTC First is, well, first, but there will be more. Others named in the Facebook Home Program today include Samsung, Qualcomm, Huawei and Sony.
In Europe, EE — France Telecom’s 4G JV with T-Mobile in the UK — will also be among the early partners.
It turns out that it was Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T, who was behind the plan to bring HTC into the game. At the presentation today he said that they were the ones to suggest to Mark Zuckerberg that HTC, a great partner for AT&T, should be the first device maker for an integrated Android smartphone.
“When Mark first approached us about this, what captivated me was that this would be the best Facebook experience ever,” said de la Vega. “People would be at the center, and I bought into that.”
Facebook has relied on a close relationship with carriers for years already, which is important for it in markets where it relies on people using their mobile devices rather than PCs to access the social network, as well as in mature markets where people have become avid users of Facebook on smartphones.
That has included Facebook Zero in which simple, text-based Facebook access, aimed at feature phones at emerging markets, is bundled into carriers’ pricing and priced free. That extends to the addition of promotions, such as this offer for free mobile talk time to users in India when they signed up for Facebook.
Through its acquisition of Snaptu in 2011, it moved up to improve the Facebook experience on higher-tier feature phones; here it has also partnered with carriers to promote these services, offering periods of free data usage, a model it has since expanded to promoting its messaging service also in partnership with carriers.
There have also been services, not led by Facebook, in which the company’s APIs have been used to create access to the social network’s services on handsets.
They have included France Telecom working on a Facebook-based social calling service, “Party Call,” as well as a way of embedding Facebook access using USSD technology, making Facebook available even on the most basic mobile networks.