April 1, 2013 at 1:24 PM ET
Facebook's mysterious invite for its Thursday announcement has a clue in its wording — "Come see our new home on Android" — and it may be that the "home" refers to a new Facebook Home app that is a customized launcher for the social network.
The Android Police — which assures this is not an April Fools' joke — says it obtained a system dump of the ROM (read-only memory) from an HTC phone, believed to be the release unit for what Facebook is unveiling Thursday.
"According to this rom, the Facebook Phone looks to be a mostly stock, mid-range (HTC) Sense 4.5 phone that was attacked by a mutant Facebook app," writes Ron Amadeo on The Android Police. "Everything seems to be focused on the Facebook app — they haven't made their own Android Skin, or anything like that. Sadly, we can't get too many more details, because just about everything requires that you have special access to Facebook."
The Android Police said among the set of permissions are those that allow Facebook to "read the settings for the stock Android launcher, the HTC launcher, and the (Samsung) Touchwiz Launcher. Having permissions for Touchwiz on an HTC phone is a dead giveaway that Facebook plans on releasing Facebook Home not just on this phone, but as a standalone app in the (Google) Play Store," for other Android users.
So while it's not a new operating system, it could be an uber-app that you spend most of your mobile life inside. The key will be if this so-called launcher encompasses Facebook apps of its own, particularly profitable games of the "FarmVille" and "Words With Friends" variety.
If it did, however, Google would probably view it as a break from Google-branded Android, and could block Facebook's new app from the Play Store — or block Google apps such as Maps from shipping on devices that come with the Facebook launcher. All the more reason to watch Thursday's announcement with some attention to details.
We've asked Facebook to comment and will update this post if we hear back.