The end of the Facebook phone is nearing. Five weeks after Facebook debuted the HTC First — and four days after AT&T dropped the price on the phone to less than a dollar (with contract) — the joint venture appears to be unraveling. Tech blog BGR reported on Monday morning that AT&T officials are planning to discontinue the phone due to the poor sales, and return any unsold phones to its Taiwanese manufacturer, HTC. How bad were these sales? "For some perspective, BGR has been informed that sales of the HTC First have been even worse than HTC Chacha sales," says BGR, referring to the last so-called Facebook phone. (Marketed as the HTC Status in the United States, the Chacha featured a dedicated Facebook button.)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced the First on April 5 alongside Facebook Home, a sophisticated Android launcher designed to take over the phone's homescreen, providing users with a constant feed of Facebook content and new Facebook-specific messaging features like Chat Heads. (Home can also be installed a handful of other Android devices, so the HTC phone was always kind of a dry run of a first-look partnership — more a PR boon for the phone maker than a test of the social network's mobile capabilities.) Along with others, The Atlantic Wire praised the phone's design and battery life but questioned the utility of Home, a well-designed but often cumbersome attempt to inject Facebook's social features into an otherwise ordinary, low- to mid-level Android phone. Salon called it "an unmitigated disaster," and its Google Play reviews remain overwhelmingly negative — in part because Home works on just a few select devices.
It's ironic, then, that the First would be discontinued first. Facebook threw a lot of weight behind Home — including the famed Apple iOS designer Mike Matas, who joined Facebook in August 2011 — and was clearly banking on its features to move First sales. The company's long commercial for Home exclusively featured the HTC device, not any of the other phones on which Home could be installed. But it looks like Home wound up hampering sales. "AT&T sales representatives do not like Facebook Home or the First at all," BGR noted, "and they are making little if any effort to sell the handset to customers."