Today, Facebook officially launched “Facebook for Every Phone”, a downloadable native mobile app compatible with 2500 different feature phones. The app is a rebranding and improvement on the “Facebook for Feature Phones” app Facebook built with Snaptu before it acquired that company in March. The app brings a smartphone-like experience to less advanced handsets, and includes the ability to upload photos and pull a phone’s contacts into the Facebook Friend Finder.
The app will help users of older phone models, including many in the developing world, gain access to more Facebook features. To make sure users get hooked on this deeper experience, Facebook has collaborated with 20 international carriers to offer 90 days of free data access to the app.
We’ve been tracking Snaptu’s Facebook feature phone app since June 2009, and have watched it climb to 1.76 million daily active users, just down from its peak of 1.89 million DAU last month. In an effort to improve its offering for feature phones, Facebook partnered with Israeli Snaptu in January 2011 and offered 90 days of free access to Facebook for Feature Phones from several East Asian and Central European carriers.
Seeing international mobile usage as key to continued growth, Facebook acquired Snaptu in March. Some estimated the purchase price between $40 and $70 million, which may have made it Facebook’s largest acquisition to date.
Now Facebook has renamed the app Facebook for Every Phone, added new features, and made deals for temporary free access from 20 more carriers including several from countries with fast-growing Facebook populations such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The app was specially designed to require less data transfer than mobile sites or Java apps, so low costs should encourage users to pay for access after the free trial expires.
Users can download the app by visiting m.facebook.com, scrolling all the way to the bottom of the news feed, and following the download link. Facebook for Every Phone is also available in popular feature phone app stores such as GetJar, Appia, and Mobile Weaver. Users can also download it directly from d.facebook.com/install. Even before the formal launch, users were already actively downloading it, with Facebook for Every Phone already hosting 744,000 DAU as of yesterday.
Some features that appear to be new include the ability to upload photos from one’s hand set. This will drive use of the Photos product in developing countries where users may not have separate digital cameras or web connection to upload photos from. With more photos from friends available for browsing, usage of Facebook in these areas should also increase.
Facebook will also be able boost user growth and interconnection thanks to Facebook for Every Phone’s ability to import a user’s phone’s contacts into its Friend Finder. This will allow Facebook to suggest friends for users, and get them to send site invites to their contacts that don’t have accounts yet. When users except these invites, Facebook can provide them with recommendations of people to friend. This guides these users get over the initial on-boarding hump and fills their news feed with compelling content that helps Facebook retain them.
Along with Facebook’s permanently free mobile site 0.facebook.com, Facebook for Every Phone will bring the social network closer to ubiquity on mobile devices. Though Facebook doesn’t currently monetize its mobile users directly, they create content that drive time-on-site and therefore ad impressions on the web interface. By getting users outside the first-world invested in the site by helping them upload photos and find friends, Facebook can convert to them to monetizable web users once computers and web access become more widely available and affordable.