Facebook, Vodafone, Alcatel Lucent Developing $100 Facebook Phone

Facebook and Vodefone will release Alcatel Lucent-manufactured feature phone called the Vodafone 555 Blue that will have a Facebook-centric operating system and dedicated physical Facebook sharing button. The companies are aiming at a $100 price point to target users in both the developing and first-world, especially teens, that want enhanced Facebook functionality without paying for a smart phone.

The lower handset cost and availability of a pay-as-you-go plan could make this Facebook phone more likely to accomplish the goal of driving international growth than past Facebook phones by INQ and HTC that all cost over $200. However, it still requires a data plan and lacks the feature and software design quality of the Facebook for Every Phone feature phone app.

This year Facebook has partnered with several handset and SIM card makers and carriers to release phones with special Facebook features. A key to Facebook’s growth strategy is getting those in the developing world access to more features, which leads to increased usage. The Gemalto Facebook for SIM is one of the cheapest, while still embedding Facebook functionality in a SIM card that can be used with almost any handset.

The Vodafone 555 Blue will deliver deeper functionality found in the higher end HTC and INQ Facebook phones, including the ability to browse the news feed, view photos, and upload photos as soon as they’re shot through an OS based on Java.

A Facebook overlay on the homescreen allows for quick access to a user’s profile, news feed, messaging and Chat. Users can press the dedicate Facebook key to reach these options, ostensibly launching the app.

Facebook content updates are synced to the phone in the background. This may work well for those that only check Facebook occasionally, as there data will already have loaded, but that’s not who this handset is aimed at. Those constantly checking may wish for the manual sync was faster, and background syncing can cause the phone’s OS to slow down at inopportune times.

MSN’s UK Tech & Gadgets blog did a hands-on report about the Vodafone 555 Blue and found while the the Facebook functionality was satisfactory, the phone’s low 200 MHZ processing power led to waits for loading, and a cramped QWERTY keyboard made it somewhat difficult to use. The photo browsing is apparently very slow as well. Though it’s considered a feature phone, the Blue include Opera Mini 5 for web browsing, which is a plus.

Those in developing markets who often lack consistent broadband web access and who may have used Facebook’s free 0.facebook.com may be enticed by to use the service more and invite their friends thanks to the Vodafone 555 Blue. These users may be better served by one of 2,500 handsets capable of downloading the Facebook for Every Phone app, and those in the first-world may not be willing to endure the shorter feature set and long load times.