Facebook Makes Its Presence More Deeply Felt Among Smart and Feature Phones

Being the most downloaded app in the world by a longshot is not enough for Facebook.

A suite of innovative partnerships unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and confirmed in a Facebook Blog post this week is pushing the company’s social networking features deeper into mobile devices at all price points. This will not only potentially bring tens of millions of brand new users on-board, it will also more deeply intertwine Facebook in the everyday lives of its active users in the developed world.

The word “Facebook phone” remains a sticky subject, as the company is cautious about irritating partners. Handset-maker HTC stopped short of using it, while Facebook’s head of mobile products Erick Tseng has joked that Gemalto turns every phone into a Facebook phone.

Low-End: Gemalto created a SIM Card with Facebook embedded inside, meaning that features like friending, status updates, wall posts and messages are available to all SIM-compliant phones even if the owners don’t have a data plan.

This could help Facebook reach tens or hundreds of millions of new users in developing countries, who may carry mobile phones but have yet to sign up for a data plan. Given that growth is largely tapped out in the U.S. and Western Europe, Facebook is relying on these emerging markets to grow beyond 600 million users.

Users can sign up for Facebook directly from the SIM card, which uses SMS technology to upload and download information from the social network. It scans their address book for friends and users get pop-up messages on their phone’s screen when they want to see wall posts and events. It’s not free, however, and comes with a subscription plan.

Middle-Tier: A partnership with device maker INQ brings the teenage wallet-friendly Cloud Touch to market with Facebook written all over it.

The homepage features the news feed, while a “People” section combines Facebook profiles and contact information. A top bar takes four Facebook functions including events, notifications and places and strings them along the top. It feels like the next generation of what Motorola’s Motoblur was supposed to be.

The clear target market is younger users who may not have the discretionary income to bump up to an iPhone or top-of-the-line Android device, but use SMS and social networking all the time to communicate with friends.

It’s important to note that INQ and Facebook share an investor in Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing.

Higher-End: Taiwanese handset maker HTC unveiled two Android-based smartphones today called the ChaCha and Salsa that come bejeweled with an official Facebook button at the bottom of the phone. The phones are context-aware and the purpose of the Facebook button changes throughout the day depending on whether the user is listening to music, browsing web pages or taking photos.

It pulses with light, encouraging users to share. When a user listens to the song, if they press the Facebook button, the phone will automatically share it. When they take a photo, a click of the button will share it. They can also check a person in.

But what of the platform?

All of these partnerships get Facebook closer to one of its two big mobile objectives — accessibility. But at Mobile World Congress, we haven’t seen much movement on the other — the platform.

This where a Facebook-enhanced version of the Android OS and HTML5 could play a role. We’ve heard mixed signals about the progress of the project, with some sources close to device manufacturers saying in the last week that Facebook has abandoned it to focus solely on deep phone integrations. Yet, similar to what TechCrunch is hearing, other sources closer to Facebook tell us the project still has a huge amount of resources being thrown at it.