Does a Facebook Phone Make Any Sense? (Updated)
Kat Hannaford and Jason Chen — A flurry of rumors circulated today about HTC launching Facebook-branded phones. Let’s talk about this! Updated.
Why this rumor doesn’t make sense
What CityAM is saying about the facebook phone might be right. But it seems off. CityAM didn’t quote any sources, instead relying on old favorites “City A.M. has learned” and “it is understood…”. OK, that happens all the time. But CityAM is hardly known for breaking tech news. Not to discredit a publication for never having made a scoop, it’s unlikely that a free financial paper—in England, no less—that’s handed out for free at train stations has the necessary contacts to dig up a story of this size. And they’ve changed it now, but CityAM originally described HTC as a Korean company (they’re Taiwanese). If they can’t get this minor point right, it says something about their expertise, now, doesn’t it? Still, we don’t know CityAM is wrong any more than we can prove they are right. Lets just talk about the idea of a Facebook phone, itself.
CityAM’s article says the phone will “run on a tweaked version of Google’s Android operating system and will prominently display users’ Facebook messages and news feed on the home screen.” My HTC Android already does that. Likewise, “other areas of integration expected include being able to call or email friends from information stored on their Facebook page.” Looking at my “contacts” list now, I can see plenty of my Facebook contacts’ email and phone numbers, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course, the Facebook phone could really just be a much more immersive experience, Android is for Google services as compared to the iPhone and its Google App.
• The two engineers CityAM claims that are working on the project—Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos—have previously been fingered as working on Facebook-branded phones last September. It wasn’t much of a stretch to align them with some mystery HTC phones.
• We know CEOs lie all the time, but for what it’s worth, Zuckerberg himself said at the Facebook platform event last fall that they would not be doing a Facebook phone, outright.
Why make a Facebook phone at all?
Facebook’s iPhone app and lack of a dedicated iPad app are telling. The company is into its web based content but still behind on developing specific versions of their content for specific platforms. Those priorities make sense to me.
So the push for a specific piece of hardware, when Facebook won’t even develop solid apps for all the existing mobile platforms, seems iffy. It’s more likely that HTC is working on an updated version of Sense, its UI for Android, integrating Facebook—and perhaps even Twitter—deeper than we’ve seen in the past.
Indeed, Facebook spokesperson Jaime Schopflin herself confirmed back in September that Hewitt and Papakipos are already working on projects integrated Facebook into existing OSes, such as iOS and the INQ Mobile OS.
Here’s another small point: If you take a look at Moto Blur on Motorola’s Android phones, or Palm/HP’s webOS, or HTC’s Sense UI as mentioned earlier, you’ll see that many phone manufacturers have already been integrating Facebook tightly. You can post status updates from just about anywhere on the phone. Facebook contacts are often merged with your phone’s contacts. Facebook messaging is just another choice in a dropdown menu that includes texts, IMs and emails when you’re talking to your friends. And all your friends have their Facebook photos viewable to the point where your phone just uses their profile picture as your contact photo automatically. These are, essentially, Facebook phones.
That’s no reason for Facebook to not make a phone, but there is an important point here. Unlike Google and Android, who places restrictions on the API so that other phone OSes can’t get the same level of, say, Gmail client performance, Facebook is pretty much open. Why would they make a phone if someone else can make it for them?
Other than these features, think about what you’d want to do on Facebook today that you can’t already do on your Android/Pre phone. It’s hard to come up with something, isn’t it? But facebook’s user base is big enough that a phone with a user experience built around facebook wouldn’t be out of the question. HTC could surprise us all with a pair of Facebook-branded phones at the MWC trade show next month, but it just doesn’t seem like something like this would be a priority for a company that is still working out OS integration on already huge platforms for its already huge user base. [CityAM via TechRadar]
UPDATED: Unsurprisingly, Facebook has denied all talk of a Facebook phone existing, with their head of business development, Dan Rose, stating that “this is really just another example of a manufacturer who has taken our public APIs (application programming interfaces) and integrated them into their device in an interesting way.”