For the last couple of years, the “Facebook phone” has lived in a faraway land – along with the unicorn, the Yeti, and the Apple TV set. Though we’d still be skeptical of any reported Yeti sightings, your eyes won’t be deceiving you if you soon see the mythical Facebook phone.

The first signs came yesterday, when Facebook sent out invitations alluding to “our new home on Android.” Today The Wall Street Journal chatted with an unnamed Facebook employee, who confirmed that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has plans to Facebook-ify the Android home screen on select phones.

The initiative will start with an upcoming HTC handset (the first real “Facebook phone”?), but he reportedly hopes to strike similar deals with other Android device manufacturers.

Your new homescreen

From the description, it sounds like Facebook’s software is at least a launcher (home screen replacement). Or it could be a full-blown skin, similar to HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz. When you unlock the Facebook phone’s screen, you’ll see your Facebook feed. There are already Facebook homescreen widgets that do something similar, but this sounds like it takes it a step (or seven) further.

App launchers (home screen replacements) don’t violate Google’s terms, so the phone would likely still include Google’s suite of apps: Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, and Google Maps, etc. This is different from forked versions of Android (like Amazon’s Kindle Fire software) that eschew Google’s services altogether.

It isn't clear whether the phone will have any physical Facebook branding, but it wouldn't be surprising. Facebook and HTC previously collaborated on the forgettable HTC ChaCha back in 2011. It was only a "Facebook phone" in that it had a button dedicated to the social network.

Facebook mobility

Facebook has shifted its priority to mobile during the last couple of years. Zuckerberg was reportedly unhappy with the company’s Android app, and started an initiative to encourage its employees to use Android phones, if only to see how much work the app needed.

Don’t expect to see anything like this on the iPhone. iOS 6 has Facebook integration baked in, but only through system-wide sharing. Apple wields tight control over its software, and would never let another company jack the home screen.

Android is a prime target for Facebook's more prominent mobile push, due to its customizability. Oh, and its status as the world's most widely used mobile OS can't hurt either.

We’ll hear more about this at Facebook’s event next Thursday.

Source: The Wall Street Journal