Facebook brings mobile app to feature phones

The app, coming in 14 markets, is designed to serve users who don't have smartphones

Facebook users who want to access the social-networking service on the go, but don't have smartphones, now have an app of their own in some countries.

On Wednesday, Facebook introduced a mobile app for feature phones, the less-expensive, Internet-capable phones that far outnumber smartphones in many parts of the world. Like Facebook apps for the Apple iPhone and other smartphones, the Facebook for Feature Phones app is designed to provide easy navigation, fast scrolling of status updates and photos from friends, and synchronization of contacts with the phone. The app was announced in a Wednesday entry to Facebook's official blog.

While smartphones are widely used in the U.S. and some European and Asian countries, many mobile Internet users elsewhere rely on feature phones. Last year, Facebook launched the mobile website http://0.facebook.com, a stripped-down site for users on slower networks and less-advanced phones. It is designed to work faster by using only text. Now Facebook is offering those users a dedicated application with more graphical content.

The new app works on more than 2,500 handset models from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and other vendors, according to Facebook. But it won't immediately be available everywhere. Facebook initially will offer it through 14 carriers around the world, with nine of those offering the app immediately. They include operators in Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Tunisia, Dominican Republic and Romania. Soon after, carriers in Canada, India, Mexico, Brazil and Bulgaria will make it available.

For the first 90 days after launch, those service providers won't charge for data use with the new app, Facebook said.

When Facebook launched its slimmed-down mobile site, it announced 50 carrier partners in 40 countries, offering at least 12 months of free data use. At the time, it said the U.S. was left out of the launch because Facebook was doing well with media-rich smartphone applications and was looking to provide a deeper experience to those users.

Mobile is Facebook's biggest growth engine, mobile products head Eric Tseng said at a conference last July. At that time, the company had about 150 million mobile users out of a total of 500 million members, he said.

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Stephen Lawson

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