Facebook began showing mobile advertisements for the first time last spring.

New York - When is a phone not a phone? When it's a Facebook phone.

Instead of producing its own handset, the social network on Thursday night made its most ambitious pitch to the many millions of us who are increasingly browsing the internet using our hand-held devices by unveiling software that turns regular mobile phones into always-connected Facebook devices.

“Today our phones are designed around apps, not people - we want to flip that around,” Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said as he launched the software at the firm's headquarters in California.

The new software - christened Facebook Home - will work on phones powered by Google's Android system, opening up a huge market for the social network. It is a far bigger market, in fact, than the one commanded by Apple's iOS system, which powers the iPhone. Android, in contrast, is the backbone of handsets produced by Samsung, HTC, Sony and others.

Although the new software will eventually be available to all Android users, HTC will be the first company to produce a Facebook-ready phone.

The HTC First will have the software installed and will be available in the US via the AT&T network from 12 April. Costing $99.99 (about R900), it will present a far cheaper alternative to the iPhone produced by Apple, which is rumoured to be working on a cut-price version of its handset.

The Facebook Home software will be free to download for existing Android users. Facebook said it hoped to make the software available to users of tablet devices powered by Android in the next few months.

The new software will put Facebook at the centre of the user experience. Instead of having to click through to a Facebook app, phones will be reset to display updates to Facebook profiles and news feeds on the home screen. Apps will sit behind this layer, which the firm called the “Cover Feed”.

Meanwhile, a new instant-messaging feature called Chat Heads will incorporate messages sent via Facebook and regular SMSes. - The Independent