Facebook Firmware, OMG!

Not satisfied with letting smartphone buyers in emerging markets decide for themselves whether or not they want its app on their phones, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) is taking a proactive -- some might say subversive -- tack: embedding the Facebook app directly into the workings of smartphones.

Spreadtrum Communications (NASDAQ: SPRD  ) , a Chinese semiconductor maker, will be partnering with Facebook in this endeavor. Spreadtrum produces a so-called turnkey smartphone platform. This platform consists of the processors, the protocal software, and the operating system -- in this case, Android -- which make up the technical guts of a smartphone. A handset maker puts this turnkey platform into its own package and, voila, an inexpensive smartphone.

These phones are meant for areas such as Latin America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, where consumers are just now switching from feature phones to smartphones. Strategy Analytics telecom analyst Scott Bicheno said he expects, with smartphone sales growth in emerging markets, that by 2015, 42% of all handsets sold annually will be smartphones.

Ironically, Facebook is officially banned in China, though Chinese Internet users can still access the social networking site indirectly through proxy services. Spreadtrum-powered phones with the Facebook app will not be sold in China.

With that kind of penetration, Facebook wants to make sure those new consumers can't miss the Facebook App being one of the first things they see when powering up their new phones.

"Working with Spreadtrum will extend Facebook's reach in emerging markets, leveraging the rapid shift from feature phones to smartphones that is now taking place globally," said Facebook vice president of mobile partnerships, Vaughan Smith, in a Spreadtrum press release

"Our collaboration with Facebook enables us to provide handset makers with the best, most updated feature set from Facebook as part of our mobile platform," said Spreadrum chairman and CEO, Dr. Leo Li.

Spreadtrum says it expects to ship between 80 million and 100 million of its smartphone chipsets worldwide in 2013.

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