Facebook and Orange team up on dedicated handsets

International mobile operator Orange has announced a collaboration with Facebook on a range of sub-€100 handsets described by Facebook’s head of mobile, Henri Moissinac, as featuring “the best set of integrations so far” of any device the social networking firm has co-developed.

Orange said consumers who buy the handsets, which are built by Alcatel, will get “unlimited” access to Facebook as part of their data plan. But exactly how this will work was not made clear.

Both Orange and Facebook denied that there is any financial relationship behind the programme, with Patrick Remy, VP devices at Orange, saying that Facebook is subsidising neither the handsets nor any related traffic, and that Orange is not zero-rating that traffic.

Yet Facebook is clearly keen to involve itself in carrier pricing strategies, with Moissinac citing pricing as one of the three pillars of the firm’s mobile strategy.

Orange has not yet finalised the pricing for the devices in any market other than Romania, where the most expensive handset of the new range, the One Touch 908F,  will retail at less than €100, unsubsidised, on a monthly contract of €9.

What the two companies were particularly keen to stress was the deep integration between the devices and the user’s Facebook account. From the first boot-up of the device, the social network is central. If the user has no account, they are invited to create one the first time they switch their new phone on. If they do have an account, the firms said, all photo galleries, contact lists, and calendars are automatically synched.

The Facebook hard key operates in a contextual way, Remy said. If the user is browsing online and they hit the key, they will automatically be able to share a link to the page they’re viewing, for example. Or, if they take a picture on their phone and hit the key, they will automatically be prompted to upload it to their Facebook albums.

The devices are designed with new customers in mind and the range is aimed squarely at first time smartphone users and the emerging markets; with both firms emphasising the customer acquisition prospects for the devices in Africa.

There are three devices in the initial range. The 908F, which will be sold as the Vancouver in markets where the Alcatel brand is perceived to lack value, according to Remy, is the flagship of the trio. Described by Remy as the “most affordable Android smartphone on the market”, with a full touch screen and HSPA access, the 908F will be marketed across the Orange footprint.

The 813F combines a full QWERTY keypad with a 2.4” touch screen and is limited to EDGE data connectivity.  Priced, unsubsidised, at €60 this device will be aimed more at Orange’s emerging markets. Bringing up the rear is the 585F, a GPRS only handset without touch screen, likely to be priced around 40 without subsidy.

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