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Did Facebook Try To Take On Apple By Developing a ‘Facebook Phone’ With HTC?

Facebook’s move to launch a co-branded smartphone in collaboration with HTC back in 2013 ultimately failed, but its initial vision was much larger: a Facebook phone exclusive to the company built from grassroots.

Facebook had hoped to take on Apple and Google’s dominance of the smartphone market with its own smartphone, but instead of launching its own branded phone, it collaborated with HTC to launch the HTC First in 2013. It was the first Android smartphone launched to have incorporated Facebook’s Newsfeed into the home screen.

The project was so secretive the digital giant refused to tell many of its own employees about it, according to Steven Levy’s new book ‘Facebook: The Inside Story,’ which documents the social media giant in its early years.

Levy details in the book how Facebook’s plan to launch its own smartphone came about, including the people inside the company who were tasked with spearheading the project.

The original phone was nicknamed GFK for the Wu-Tang Clan member Ghost Face Killah, the book claims – a detail that The Verge’s Casey Newton first identified.

Leading the new project was Chamath Palihapitiya, a prominent venture capitalist who worked for Facebook for four years from 2007 through to 2011. To help keep the project low-profile, Palihapitiya moved his team to an unmarked, unsuspecting building that required a badge outside of Facebook’s own badge.

Levy’s book claims that if employees asked if Facebook was developing a phone, the company would lie and deny it to them.

‘It was the first time I recall Facebook lying internally,’ Ezra Callahan, one of Facebook’s first 20 employees, said to Levy.

While the phone itself never made it to the market, it was designed by high-profile designer Yves Béhar and included a special groove where the owner could place their thumbs while scrolling.

The digital tech giant had also planned to work with Intel for the phone’s processor, and a prototype was even manufactured by Foxconn, the iPhone making giant located in China.

In this May 26, 2010 file photo, staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, southern China.  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

As far was what’s been reported, no photos of that prototype have emerged.

The phone was ultimately unsuccessful and just a month after its release, AT&T slashed the devices price to just US $0.99. A sequel was never made.

While Facebook’s plans to become a third challenger in the smartphone market space failed, there’s no doubt it conquered the mobile space in its own way – Facebook still holds the top three apps in Apple’s App Store and two on Google’s Play Store, according to data form App Annie.

They include Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

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