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Facebook phone set for early 2011 launch: report

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(Read caption) Facebook phone fever: A new report suggests HTC will release a pair of Facebook-branded handsets in coming months.

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Facebook phone gossip first hit the Web last September, courtesy of TechCrunch chief Michael Arrington. Facebook, Arrington alleged at the time, would turn to a third-party source for the hardware, and go in-house for the software. "Facebook wants to integrate deeply into the contacts list and other core functions of the phone. It can only do that if it controls the operating system," Arrington wrote.

So was Arrington right? According to the British tech site City AM, Facebook will soon unveil two branded handsets, both manufactured by HTC. The Facebook phones will be officially unveiled at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, on Feb. 14, City AM alleges; each handset would "bear the Facebook branding and colors," in one way or another.

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"It is understood the phones will run on a tweaked version of Google’s Android operating system and will prominently display users’ Facebook messages and news feed on the home screen," City AM reporter Steve Dinneen writes today. "Other areas of integration expected include being able to call or email friends from information stored on their Facebook page."

Let's assume the Facebook phone is a real deal. What kind of reception would it find? On the one hand, Facebook has huge reach and popularity, and heavy Facebook users may want a phone that caters to their lifestyle. On the other, a Facebook phone would enter an already-crowded market, and finding traction would require going head to head with the iPhone and the rapidly-growing fold of Android handsets.

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