MediaTek friends Facebook with feature phone integration

Feature phones costing under $50 will soon come with Facebook functions built in

MediaTek, a designer of software and chipsets for low-end phones, will work with Facebook on a social networking application for feature phones, the chip company said on Tuesday.

Today, more than 350 million of the social networking site's active users access it through their mobile devices.

The new software will allow phone manufacturers using MediaTek's chips to integrate Facebook functions into phones costing less than US$50 before subsidies, and let many users in emerging markets access the social networking site for the first time, according to MediaTek, whose products were used in 500 million phones in 2010.

MediaTek didn't say when the first Facebook feature phones will arrive, but said it is working with a number companies on cheap Facebook phones, including Indian phone maker Micromax and Philippine phone maker Cherry Mobile.

Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight, said: "It makes perfect sense, because it is what users are asking for. One of the first things users query about today is if a phone does Facebook."

Besides social networking, music and games are also becoming more important as feature phones become increasingly advanced, according to Pescatore.

The line between feature phones and smartphones is getting blurry. MediaTek calls the upcoming Facebook phones "smart feature phones," and defines them as a feature phone with Internet functionality.

Advanced feature phones have been in the news lately. Nokia launched four new feature phones to accompany its first two Windows Phones at its recent Nokia World conference. The phones in Nokia's Asha family all have Facebook integrated on the home screen, and will range in price from €60 (US$83) to €115.

Smartphones may be talking over in many parts of the world, but as the network operators work on connecting the next billion mobile subscribers, phones that cost below US$100 before subsidies will play a key role.

Emerging markets will account for 60 percent of units sold by 2013, and 70 percent of phones sold in these parts of the world will feature phones, according to market research company Informa Telecoms and Media.

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