Facebook’s Next Step In Mobile Domination: A Feature Phone App

Facebook has yet to launch its own phone, but it is already one of the more popular mobile data services around, and a new app it’s launching could take that reach even further: the social network today debuted Facebook For Feature Phones, which will be usable on some 2,500 different phone models from manufacturers like Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC), LG (SEO: 066570) and others.

Developed by Snaptu, which creates apps for Java-based devices, Facebook’s new app lets feature phone owners access Facebook just like their smartphone friends do: users can syncrhonise their contacts, view photo and friend updates, and navigate everything through a home screen.

Judging by the list of operators that have so far signed on to co-market the app, it is a sign of how Facebook hopes to expand its reach far beyond its middle-class, Western roots. Among the 14 operators named in the announcement are Dialog (Sri Lanka); Life (Ukraine); Play (Poland); StarHub (Singapore); Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) (Romania); Mobilicity (Canada); Reliance (India) and TIM (Brazil).

The app is an enhancement on Facebook’s existing product for lower-end phones, Facebook Zero. Zero is a pared-down mobile web interface that allows users to update their status, message each other and comment on other’s posts.

Zero was something that Facebook rolled out very much in partnership with operators: in markets where Zero is offered, customers do not have to pay any data charges to use the basic service, only paying when they start to view photos or visit sites outside of Facebook.

The new feature phone app will follow that model with participating operators– for the first 90 days, at least. Thereafter, data charges will apply.