Facebook Messenger for Android Beta Testers launches

MessengerBecomeATester650Facebook Messenger for Android became the latest application to get the beta-testing treatment, as the social network announced in a post on its engineering blog that the Facebook Messenger for Android Beta Testers program is now live.

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Facebook’s latest Android update allows users to control privacy on posted stories

Android300Facebook users have made it clear that they want more control over their privacy. The company’s investors said that repeatedly during Facebook’s first shareholders meeting, and the latest Android mobile app update shows that the site is working on more ways to get privacy controls in the users’ hands.

From the Android app, Facebook users can now change the privacy settings on any of their prior posts.

Previously, users could only control who sees posts they’re about to make from their Android app, but now people can go back to any post they’ve made and tweak the privacy settings.

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HTC reveals HTC First, an Android smartphone pre-installed with Facebook Home

HTC-LogoHTC today revealed the HTC First, the first Android smartphone that comes with Facebook Home pre-installed on the device.

With Facebook Home pre-installed on the HTC First, users can get all the experiences from the new Facebook Home app, such as cover feed and chat heads. But the HTC First packs some exclusive Facebook Home functionality that the app won’t have like the ability to feed in email and calendar notifications to the home screen.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring mobile and social together,” said HTC CEO Peter Chou at the event today held at Facebook’s headquarters.

Instead of building the mythical Facebook phone or its own mobile operating system, Facebook decided to partner with mobile device manufacturer HTC, and build an Android app that functions as a home screen replacement, without the need to fork or modify the Android OS.HTC First

“Android was designed from the ground up to support these deep integrations,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Zuckerberg also revealed the Facebook Home Program for all original equipment manufacturers of Android devices, so in the future, more and more Android manufacturers could potentially design devices like the HTC First, with Facebook Home pre-loaded as the default home screen.

The HTC First will be available exclusively from AT&T on April 12 for $99.99, with four color choices including red, light blue, white and black. Pre-ordering for the HTC First begins today.HTC First colors

‘Silent updates’ for Android download latest version of Facebook without Google Play

android-developmentFacebook is testing a new way for Android users to receive app updates without going through the Google Play store.

Some Android users are now receiving “silent updates,” which download in the background while a user is connected over Wi-Fi. Instead of users receiving a notification about a new app version through Google Play, the Facebook app downloads its update automatically and then prompts users to install it. A number of users report that the prompts are persistent and a user’s phone will beep or buzz until the update is installed.

Facebook says the silent updates are a way to “make sure everyone is using the best version of our app.”
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Mobile apps see greater engagement, monetization from Facebook login

mobile-developmentA number of mobile developers are reporting more engagement and better monetization among Facebook-connected users than users who do not log in with their social network account, according to a post on Facebook’s developer blog today.

In December, the company announced that nearly 200,000 iPhone and Android apps connect with Facebook. However, many people still think about the Facebook platform being distinct from mobile. Although Facebook does offer a vertical platform where apps can be used within the Facebook.com canvas, it’s also possible for Facebook to be integrated horizontally across any other platform, including iOS, Android and the mobile web. What the company is trying to do now is convince developers why they should integrate their apps with Facebook.

Facebook suggests that a socially connected user is a more valuable user. Developers like Wooga, Ludia, Buffalo Studios and others have offered some evidence to show that users who log into their mobile games with Facebook spend more time and money in the apps. However, the social network is simultaneously gaining a reputation for being a less open platform than it portrays. Today TechCrunch reported that Facebook has blocked data access from a mobile social search app called Wonder, and last week the company took some similar measures against mobile voice messaging app Voxer. [Update: Facebook has also prevented Twitter's new Vine app from using its friend-finding feature.]

Here are the game developer stats Facebook shared in its latest post:

  • In Ludia’s Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, 52 percent of users connect with Facebook, but 70 percent of revenue comes from those users.
  • Ludia also says 63 percent of daily players of Family Feud & Friends connect with Facebook. Retention of Facebook users is double the retention of those who sign in with guest mode. These Facebook users contribute 70 percent of total revenue.
  • Buffalo Studios’ Bingo Blitz sees 55 percent of its iPad audience connecting with Facebook, and those users contributing 62 percent of total iPad revenue.
  • Wooga says users who log into its Diamond Dash game using Facebook are nine times more likely to spend money than players who don’t connect with Facebook.

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Facebook for Android 2.0 focuses on speed

Facebook today announced a major update to its Android application that improves the speed of launching the app, viewing photos and loading Timeline.

The update is similar to the one done for iOS in August. Previously, Facebook’s mobile applications were basically HTML5 sites within the frame of a native app. That approach made it possible to release daily updates without requiring users to download a new version and helped the company scale its mobile offering across different devices during a period of rapid growth. But the user experience suffered because the app was so slow. This has become more pronounced as other mobile apps, built natively, have greatly improved. Now Facebook can be on par with other apps and continue to make changes to improve speed.

“The infrastructure in place will let us continue to make the app even faster, smoother, and feature-rich,” engineer Frank Qixing DU said in a note on the Facebook Engineering page.

Photo viewing is a particular area of focus since it’s so core to the experience of the social network. With Facebook for Android 2.0, when users tap on a photo, it will open more quickly and they can scroll through photo albums without losing their place in News Feed. Facebook says it has improved speed 2x in this area. Liking and commenting is more efficient, too, and the company says that Timeline loads faster and the app overall opens more quickly than in the past.

These changes will make browsing Facebook more enjoyable for users, increasing the amount of time they spend using the app and making them more likely to view and interact with page posts, app stories and ads.

The new version will be available for download later today in the Google Play Store.

Facebook updates SDK for Android, launches Android Dev Center

Facebook today released its latest SDK for Android and a new Android Dev Center with resources for building successful social apps.

The Android SDK now includes native UI controls that Facebook recently began offering for iOS. These pre-built user interface components allow developers to begin from a standard template rather than building each from scratch. For example, Friend Picker lets people tag friends in an Open Graph action or find their friends who have installed an app, Places Picker shows nearby places for checking in, and Profile Picture control shows the profile picture for any Facebook user, page or place. Login controls offer a uniform way to manage user identity and app permissions. These tools serve to save developers time and to create consistent experiences for users across different mobile apps.

Like its iOS counterpart, the new SDK for Android includes improved session management and API support for developers. There are also tools for measuring clicks and installs from Facebook’s new mobile app ads.

Developers can visit the Android Dev Center to download the latest SDK and get information about building apps on Facebook’s mobile platform.

ISA 2011: Sony Ericsson to Preload its Android Devices with Facebook Login at Startup

Today at Inside Social Apps 2011, Martin Essl, part of Strategic Software Partner Management at Sony Ericsson, announced that his company will preload the Android devices it makes with a Facebook app and single sign-on [updated: that appears when users first turn on the phone]. 

This is an industry first for a device maker, and will encourage Android developers to use Facebook for social features because users won’t have to type in their email and password to try new social apps.

When users unbox their new Sony Ericsson Android device, they’ll be asked to log in to Facebook as part of the set up process. Then, once users download third-party Facebook-integrated applications, they won’t need to login, but just authorize thanks to single sign-on. “Facebook is the primary social network provider” said Essl.

Facebook introduced single-sign on in December to reduce the friction in trying Facebook-integrated mobile apps. The system allows apps to borrow the Facebook login authentication token from the device’s primary Facebook app, like Facebook for Android. The system encourages application experimentation amongst users.

Essl acknowledges that “Facebook isn’t strong in every market, but we do see in Sony Ericsson’s markets that Facebook is usually the primary network.” Preloading devices with Facebook will ease user acquisition for third-party Facebook-integrated apps, making Sony Ericsson, Android, and Facebook more attractive to developers.

Sony Ericsson will also utilize the social graph to power native functions of its devices. Users can already pre-populate their phone book with contact information of their Facebook friends. These additional integrations will be revealed in the near future.

The preloading of its app is a win for Facebook as well. Sony Ericsson sold nine million Android devices last year. Similar or better numbers in 2011 will help Facebook boost its mobile user count well above the currently listed 200 million.

Facebook’s Year in Mobile: Seeking Ubiquity on Devices, and in Apps Too

Central to the next era in Facebook’s growth, the company’s mobile team took a much more visible role this year with the launch of Places, deals with hundreds of carriers, and a bid to become an integral social layer for mobile experiences the way it is becoming on the web.

It more than doubled the number of mobile users from 100 million in February to 200 million in November. And mobile users are Facebook’s best customers, since they’re twice as active as others.

The team was just around 20 people at the end of 2009 but it’s since grown and become subdivided into different teams focused on native clients, the mobile platform (the “platmobile” team), partnerships and other stealth projects. The company also poached a capable head of mobile products from Google, Erick Tseng, who had shepherded the search giant’s first branded phone, the Nexus One, from conceptualization to launch in just under a year.

Facebook’s strategy this year could probably be broken down in three ways: 1) universal access to Facebook on all mobile devices 2) ubiquity of the Facebook platform in third-party mobile apps and 3) new features like location that take advantage of the unique capabilities of mobile phones.

Facebook Makes a Platform Play with Single Sign-on and More: Beyond standalone apps, the most important part of Facebook’s strategy is its effort to become embedded into every mobile experience the way it is becoming on the desktop web. A key part of that is single sign-on, which lets people log into Facebook once in an app, not every time they use it. This is the start of helping Facebook understand who uses which mobile apps, which could lead to an interesting social solution for app discovery — a problem plaguing developers.

The company launched fresh SDKs for iOS and Android this year, which make it easy for mobile developers to make calls to the new Graph API.

Facebook needs to successfully migrate with its biggest platform companies onto mobile devices or risk being left out of virtual goods and ad revenue. Zynga, Electronic Arts’ Playfish and Playdom, have been hungry for a way to diversify off the platform, where user acquisition costs have risen after the company crippled viral channels this year. Android and iOS present opportunities to lessen dependence on Facebook. Plus, smartphone market penetration is now large enough that there are seven and eight-digit Farmville-sized audiences to be had.

Reaching Out to the Developing World with ’0′: Unlike smaller companies, which usually wrestle with the build-for-iPhone versus Android decision, Facebook must be accessible to all devices from the lowliest feature phone to the newest generation of Apple devices.

The company’s growth hinges upon it. Facebook went from 250 million to 500 million users in 12 months. But since crossing the half a billion user mark in July, the service has only grown by roughly 75 million users in a significant slowdown, according to InsideFacebook data. That’s because the low-hanging fruit in North America and Western Europe is largely gone. The company needs to be successful in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, where access to mobile broadband often outstrips fixed-line broadband access.

To bring users from developing countries on board, Facebook launched a free, low-bandwidth version of the site called ’0′ in May with more than 50 carriers. Carriers use free access to Facebook to lure subscribers into paying for data plans, while Facebook uses the deals to grow in markets where phones are the primary access point to the web.

Although the company hasn’t released statistics on 0′s growth, Facebook’s fastest-growing markets over the last 12 months include India, the Philippines, Turkey and Indonesia — all countries where 0 was launched. South Korea and Russia, both strategic markets Mark Zuckerberg has mentioned and that the company secured mobile deals in over the past six months, have also more than quadrupled in 2010.

Parity across Android, iOS: The company, which had always prioritized the iPhone since the launch of its first native app two years ago, is now treating Android and iOS like equals. New features for both devices will come out at the same time, instead of iPhone first, Android second. Facebook, like the rest of the mobile developer community, has taken note that Android is surpassing the iPhone in market share with 300,000 device activations a day this month.

Location, Location, Location: It took awhile, but Facebook finally launched location-sharing this fall. Initially, we had heard the product was more forward-thinking and differentiated from other location products. But it was scrapped before the f8 developer conference in April and redesigned around the more conservative and familiar “check-in” paradigm, where users temporarily share their location.

Facebook has emphasized that location is another platform play and is not threatening to companies like Foursquare and Loopt, but it has almost certainly slowed their growth trajectory. The company has not released statistics on Places, but we believe the number of active users is at least 10 times the size of the next largest location-sharing product.

Just three months after Places launched, the company launched local Deals with an easy, self-service way for businesses to offer discounts to Facebook users who check-in. Facebook poached rising star and ad executive Emily White from Google to be senior director of local and run the sales side of the service.

Possibilities for 2011:

That “Facebook Phone”? Facebook has adamantly denied that it is building a phone, but we wouldn’t rule out a partnership with a handset manufacturer to design a deeply social phone. The company risks alienating device makers and partners with a Facebook-branded phone. But the company’s platform strategy is more cornered on mobile devices compared to the web right now.

Think of it this way. If Android and iOS are leading the way among smartphone platforms, Facebook will have to go through two not-entirely-friendly entities to get to the end consumer. For example, if it wanted to extend Credits to mobile apps, it would have problems since Apple’s current terms of service don’t allow for cross-game currencies. Plus, Apple already takes a 30 percent cut of payments processed through its In App Payments API. That said, the open nature of Android leaves opportunities for Facebook even without help from the search giant.

From a product perspective, the iPhone and Android devices are far from where they could be in terms of social features. Your contacts list, for example, could be like a chat list and show whether your friends are busy or available, their last status update or where they last checked in. It would be ranked by who you most often interact with, and if you clicked on a name, it would lead to their profile page and wall with options to message or call them. A single Messages app could consolidate email, SMS and chat like it does on the web.

Maps would automatically overlay friends’ locations. The phone’s camera and video recorder could let you upload directly to Facebook. A photos app would show off a stream of friends’ photos in addition to your own. One of the home screens would be the news feed. Maybe there would be a persistent like button wherever you go in the phone.

A Facebook mobile app store could have personalized rankings with the apps most downloaded or used by friends. You could update your phone number once, and it would be fresh on both Facebook and in your friends’ devices. They could extend the partnership with Skype and offer interesting ways of calling or video-chatting with friends that are logged in. These are all hypothetical, but interesting, possibilities.

Strengthening the Platform Play: Single sign-on is just a start, but Facebook will probably do more to enable the kind of virality the original platform unleashed. Short of having a branded device, Facebook could build ways for users to discover which mobile apps their friends are using — perhaps within the standalone mobile app or on Facebook.com. Places functionality is still somewhat limited as the search and write APIs, which let you pull up nearby places and send check-ins to Facebook, only came out recently. Third-party developers also don’t yet have access to pull Facebook Deals into their location apps, or the ability to create Groups.

An iPad App: Mark Zuckerberg said the company was working on this six months ago, but we have yet to see one almost a year after Apple launched the tablet. We’ve heard prototypes have a substantially different interface than the web and really delve into how the company thinks about the future of interaction on touchscreen devices. (See this essay for how the company thinks about touch interfaces.)

Renewals of the Facebook ’0′ Deals: Many of the ’0′ deals will probably be renewed in some fashion this year while new carriers in other markets will come on-board. We don’t have statistics yet on how the program is faring, but look for them early in the new year.

Advertising in Mobile Apps: This is a long shot, since Zuckerberg and Tseng said in November that the company wasn’t interested in mobile advertising in the short-term. Indeed, banner ads seem like a poor experience for mobile devices, since people use them when they’re on the go and don’t have time to segue into marketer’s website or Page. If the company was going to do brand advertising, it would be hard-pressed to do it in a non-invasive way. Facebook could more deeply integrate local advertising with Deals for Places; maybe there could be more visible options to “like” Places and subscribe to and receive push notifications on nearby deals.

Experimentation with Payments: With near-field communications coming in the Gingerbread update of Android and possibly on the next iPhone, Facebook has an interesting opportunity to experiment with mobile payments. In their spare time, a handful of developers hacked together a product called Presence that lets people “check-in” to real places using an RFID tag. One could imagine equipping local businesses with RFID tags that Facebook users can tap to check in or pay with Credits.

Facebook for Android v1.5 Mobile App Finally Gives Users Chat and Push Notifications

Facebook for Android v1.5, the latest version of the Facebook mobile app for Google’s platform, is now available in the Android Marketplace. It adds Chat and push notifications, two features sorely lacking from previous releases and heavily requested by users. We’ll go over the new features now, and will update with screenshots and a discussion of usability soon.

This update closely follows version 1.4 which was released December 3rd, and gave users access to Facebook Places and Groups. Android phones also recently received single sign-on, which reduces login friction for third-party Facebook integrated apps. Facebook for Android now only lacks a few minor features available on the iPhone, namely photo tagging, Facebook Deals, and advanced Places functionality including photo check-ins and the ability to add tags of friends to an existing check-in.

The added Chat functionality eliminates the need to use a third-party, Facebook Chat-compatible mobile app such as Go!Chat. Chat for Android runs properly in the background, which the announcement says allows users to”receive chat messages while using other applications”. Chat can thereby simulate SMS, which can help users save money.

The new push notifications will help users stay aware of activity on their Facebook accounts in real time, reducing the need to constantly check the app when awaiting a wall post or message. It will also prompt less engaged users to occasionally open Facebook for Android, which could lead to a growth in daily active users.

Comments on the announcement of the app are overwhelmingly positive and appreciative of the progress the app has made — a strong shift from the comment reels of previous release announcements which were filled with complaints about the lack of Chat and push notifications. If the Facebook for Android team can keep up this pace of updates, the app may soon rival Facebook for iPhone for the title of most advanced Facebook mobile app. That would be a big shift which could drive Facebook power users to the Google platform — something that could aid the launch of Google’s upcoming social product which may be more mobile focused.

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