MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company is not building a phone or an operating system. Rather, Facebook is introducing a mobile experience called “Home” that makes the social network the hub of any smartphone that runs Google’s Android operating system.
Zuckerberg says users can have an experience on Android phones that they can’t have on other platforms. That’s because Google makes the software available on an open-source basis, allowing others to adapt it to their needs.
The new product, called “Home” because it resides on the home screen of Android phones, is a family of apps designed around people’s Facebook connections. Zuckerberg says the goal is to put “people before apps.”
The move that coincides with rapid growth among the number of users who access the social network from smartphones and tablet computers and Facebook’s aim to evolve from its Web-based roots into a “mobile-first” company.
“What Facebook wants is to put itself at the front of the Android user experience for as many Facebook users as possible and make Facebook more elemental to their customers’ experience,” said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.
The move could help to attract more mobile advertisers. Though mobile ads were a big concern for Facebook’s investors even before the company’s initial public offering last May, some of the worry has subsided as the company muscles its way into the market.
Last year, Facebook began showing ads to its mobile audience by shoehorning corporate-sponsored content into users’ news feeds, which also include updates from friends and brands they follow. Facebook now faces the challenge of showing people mobile ads without annoying or alienating them.
The mobile advertising market is growing quickly, thanks in large part to Facebook and Twitter, which also entered the space in 2012. Research firm eMarketer expects U.S. mobile ad spending to grow 77 percent this year to $7.29 billion, from $4.11 billion last year.
EMarketer said Wednesday that it expects Facebook Inc. to reap $965 million in U.S. mobile ad revenue in 2013. That’s about 2.5 times the $391 million in 2012, the first year that Facebook started showing mobile ads. Clark Fredricksen, vice president at eMarketer, says “there are some clear reasons why a deeper integration with mobile operating systems and handsets make sense for Facebook. At the end of the day, the more deeply Facebook can engage consumers, no matter what device or operating system or handset,” the better.