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Facebook Phone rumours are back: And probably true this time

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The Facebook Phone rumours are back again. This time it's absolutely, positively, certainly, proven to exist by gadget blog Pocket-Lint and its "very reliable source". Sarcasm aside, it's true that a Facebook Phone has never had a better reason to exist.

Pocket-Lint reckons the Facebook Phone, made by HTC and named "HTC Opera UL" to perhaps hint at a new user-interface layer, has been seen with benchmarks indicating the device sports a 1.4GHz processor and runs Android Jelly Bean.

This is far from the first time we've heard about a Facebook Phone, or indeed seen one, but it is the first time when there's been need for such a device as Facebook struggles to make money from mobiles.

We heard that HTC was making a Facebook Phone in November last year when it was codenamed "Buffy" and scheduled to arrive in 12 to 18 months. Pocket-Lint's source says the device has been delayed, but given that no one outside Facebook knows exactly when it was scheduled it's hard to tell what that means.

Facebook has done phones before, notably with INQ, and the Zuckerberg-led free-content advertising nexus features prominently in the Windows Phone People hub. The website also has an Android client, which intrudes to such an extent that many fans eschew it for the well-designed mobile web version of the site.

The argument against a Facebook Phone has long been the redundancy of such a handset - Facebook is so usable on existing phones - but that neglects the critical aspect of mobile Facebook users: they don't make money for Facebook.

The world's biggest social network has been trying to address that, bringing in mobile payment biz Bango to collect revenue, and opening up user feeds to advertisements as well as encouraging people to chip in some cash to have their missives highlighted.

But those potatoes are too small to bring in the revenue Facebook needs. More likely Facebook is taking a hint from Amazon, eying the cut available from the sale of electronic content. Facebook already has an app store, and an engine churning out recommendations for mobile apps linked to iTunes and Google Play, but there's no reason for the latter to remain in place. A Facebook Phone could be linked to a content store just as the Kindle Fire is.

That would explain why it's taking more than a year to develop the phone, which would be much more than an Android handset with a Facebook button. This makes Pocket-Lint's claim more believable, although we'll have to wait another six months or so to find out for sure. ®

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