Plans to launch the HTC First “Facebook phone” in the UK have been axed, with Facebook now focusing on finessing Home instead. A poor reception to the Android handset in the US, where carrier AT&T unexpectedly slashed the cost from $99.99 to $0.99 on contract after just a few weeks of sales, has been blamed for the decision, which is said to have come from Facebook rather than either HTC or the network. Update: EE has confirmed the First won’t be launching in the UK; more details after the cut.
EE had been named the Facebook phone’s initial exclusive partner in the UK, with sales expected to start within a few months of the First arriving on US shelves. In the intervening period, however, Facebook released the Home launcher – which the First comes preloaded with – as a free download (for select devices) in the Google Play store.
It’s that software availability – along with middling first-impressions of Home – which is said to have doused expectations around HTC’s device. As we discovered in our review, the hardware isn’t bad, but users will need to be significantly – and pretty much solely – invested in Facebook for their social lives in order to get the best out of Home.
Unofficially, insiders have claimed that HTC was surprised by Facebook’s release decision for the Home launcher, the original plan having been to stagger the availability. That would have left the First with a period of market exclusivity, as the only way for Facebook fans to get their hands – officially, anyway – on the system.
We’re waiting to hear back from HTC and EE as to what’s happening in the UK, but the assumption is that the cost of launching a region-specific First variant with EE LTE support was deemed too much given the predicted demand. Whether HTC recycles the design (which was met more positively than the software) for a Home-free version remains to be seen.
The news is the latest in a spate of generally pessimistic chatter around HTC, which has seen several high-profile executives – including the CEO of HTC Asia – leave the company in recent weeks. One high point has been HTC One sales, which according to an unnamed executive at the company have now reached 5m units.
Update: An EE spokesperson gave us the following statement:
“Following customer feedback, Facebook has decided to focus on adding new customisation features to Facebook Home over the coming months. While they are working to make a better Facebook Home experience, they have recommended holding off launching the HTC First in the UK, and so we will shortly be contacting those who registered their interest with us to let them know of this decision.
Rest assured, we remain committed to bringing our customers the latest mobile experiences, and we will continue to build on our strong relationship with Facebook so as to offer customers new opportunities in the future.”