Vodafone goes social with 555 Blue Facebook phone

Vodafone has announced the launch of what it claims is the world's first pre-pay phone built with Facebook in mind, the Vodafone 555 Blue.

Looking rather like a cut-price BlackBerry, the 555 Blue was developed in partnership with Facebook by Vodafone's hardware partner TCL. The idea is to create a mobile device that would offer the best compatibility with the social networking site without the expense of a traditional smartphone, the firm said.

Looking at the specifications, there have certainly been a few corners cut in the design to keep the price down: a MTK6235 processor runs at just 200MHz, and the integrated storage is a weedy 40MB. The display is also somewhat limited, measuring 2.4 inches diagonally and featuring a QVGA resolution and 252,000 colours. While a camera is included, it's a somewhat weedy two-megapixel job.

The key point isn't the hardware, of course, but the software. Developed in partnership with Facebook, the entire handset revolves around the social networking service. Vodafone claims that Facebook is "built into the handset's core - it's running the moment the customer turns on the mobile phone."

The integration with Facebook extends beyond merely including an app for accessing the company's site: photos can be shared directly from the camera app, while Facebook details are included in the address book and messages in the same inbox as emails and SMS. With no 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity included, however, browsing is likely to be pretty slow.

"The mobile Internet plays a central role in the daily lives of more than 87 million Vodafone customers, many of whom are avid Facebook users," claimed Vodafone's Patrick Chomet at the launch. "The Vodafone 555 Blue is a unique and innovative handset, designed and developed by Vodafone to offer a simple but powerful Facebook experience for people in both emerging markets and developed economies who want to stay in touch with their friends, wherever they are."

While the handset isn't purely for Facebook - Opera Mini 5 is included for general web browsing - it's certainly not a smartphone. The slow processor, limited memory and custom operating system mean that it will never be a direct competitor for an iPhone or an Android device, but it's not supposed to be: the price is the key.

Although Vodafone hasn't fully confirmed how much the device will cost when it reaches shop shelves in August, it's thought that the company will be aiming for a £60 price point. At that level, it'll be a real temptation for Facebook addicts who can't stretch to a fully-featured smartphone, despite its somewhat lacklustre specifications.

It's also a big win for Facebook in its battle to prevent Google+ winning hearts and minds, of course: to get the most out of Google's latest social networking effort, you need an iOS or Android device in order to run the native app. For Facebook, this cut-price device will work just as well.

"Facebook wants to make every phone social," claimed Facebook's head of mobile Henri Moissinac, "and Vodafone has taken the integration of Facebook to the next stage for an affordable mobile device with the Vodafone 555 Blue. We're really happy that Vodafone will distribute this phone globally and we hope to do much more with them to bring the mobile, social internet to people everywhere."