Welcome back, ‘Facebook phone’

Along with an iPhone nano and an iPad mini, rumors of a “Facebook phone” have repeatedly piqued interest as they come and go. The first round of reports surfaced in 2010, but was shot down when Facebook denied that it was working on its own smartphone with hardware and software partner HTC. The handsets that were thought to be Facebook phones ended up being unveiled the following month as the HTC Chacha and HTC Salsa, but consumers weren’t terribly interested in mid-range Android phones with a dedicated Facebook sharing button. Rumors resurfaced this past November before dissipating as quickly as they came, but now — whether or not consumers are actually interested in the possibility of a Facebook-branded smartphone — talk of a Facebook phone has returned once again.

Citing unnamed industry sources, DigiTimes on Wednesday reported that Facebook and HTC are jointly developing a smartphone. The device will be a “customized smartphone” presumably based on Android, and it will launch in the third quarter this year at the earliest.

The report draws a number of comparisons between the secret Facebook phone project and HTC’s previous efforts with Google on the Nexus One, suggesting that because Samsung has taken over as Google’s Nexus partner, HTC is looking elsewhere for branded Android projects. DigiTimes also claims that Samsung has likely been tasked with building the next Nexus phone, though no additional details were made available.

The Facebook phone currently under development is said to have a “platform exclusive to Facebook,” enabling deep integration of Facebook services and providing a variety of custom functionality. How the device might handle private user data is unclear.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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