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Facebook unveils Facebook Phone mobile hooks

Single sign-on, location APIs, e-coupons on the go

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Facebook has introduced a handful of mobile tools, including single sign-on for third-party apps, a new Facebook Places location write API, and a "Deals" platform, which allows local businesses to offer e-coupons to Facebookers who are nearby.

The company is not building a phone. "There's this rumor out there that we're building a phone," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said today during an event at company headquarters in Palo Alto. "Uh, no."

With single sign-on, if a user is already signed into Facebook, he can log in to third-party apps with one click. Erick Tseng, vp for Facebook Mobile, said the company is releasing an updated mobile SDK that allows developers to take advantage of single sign-on.

In August, the social network unveiled Facebook Places, which encourages users to publish their location. Today, David Fetterman, lead engineer of the Facebook Development Platform, unveiled the company's new Facebook Places APIs, saying developers can now read data showing where users are located as well as write such data and search Facebook's database of locations. Via the write API, third-party apps can allow users to "check in" to their current location - i.e. publish it to the platform.

With "Deals," businesses can offer deals to Facebookers on the go. A movie theater, for instance, could offer free tickets to the first 100 Facebookers who "check in" to the theater. The company said that users will receive these deals if they're already connected to a business on Facebook or if their friends take advantage of a deal. Users can also actively seek out deals in their particular location.

The Deals platform is only available in the US. But the company plans to roll it out internationally.

Asked about user privacy, Tseng said that users always have the option of hiding their location. He said that as the company explained when it unveiled its Facebook Places service in August, users must opt-in to sharing their location. "We never share location without the user's consent," he said.

Prior to today's event, many speculated that Facebook would reveal plans for some sort of Facebook-happy handset. In late September, Bloomberg revived rumors of a Facebook phone, saying it would be rolled out in April of next year. But just days before, the company denied it was "building a phone." The company also said it was working on "deeper integration with some manufacturers."

In the past, Zuckerberg has endorsed the INQ1, from boutique phone builder INQ, as the ideal phone for Facebookers. INQ embraced Android last fall.

Today, the company also announced that it's updating the Facebook iPhone app, adding Facebook Groups and refreshing Facebook Places, and it's releasing a new version of the Facebook Android app. Zuckerberg says he believes the two apps have achieved near parity.

The Android app should be available today.

Zuckerberg said that more than 200 million people are now using Facebook on their mobiles. The figure, he said, tripled over the past year. ®

Update: This story has been continually updated with additional information from Facebook's press event.

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