Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, at a press event at the company's Palo Alto headquarters today, was quick to squash rumors about a Facebook phone. "What a novel idea," Zuckerberg said. "Facebook's gonna build a phone. Um, no."
But mobile was definitely the theme of the event. The iPhone and Android apps are getting an update, bringing Groups and Places to a larger audience. But the big news was centered around the mobile platform.
The announcements drive home Facebook's vision as creating a horizontal platform that stretches across all devices, whether Android, iPhone, RIM, Windows Mobile or even the mobile Web.
The single sign-on tool - demonstrated by Groupon and Zynga at the event - allows users to avoid the hassles of creating accounts and logging in to various applications from a mobile device. That's a nice feature but the other announcements felt meatier.
The company also opened the Places API further to offer more - specificailly, the ability to read, write and search data. The demo by Loopt (which crashed repeatedly) was supposed to showcase the integration of Places into other location-based apps. The idea is that people are "checking in" across a number of apps - Loopt, Yelp, Gowalls and others - but aren't necessarily cross-linking that "information" to the other platforms. This closes that gap and allows Facebook users to see where their friends and - and have been - regardless of which service they used to check in.
Finally, the company launched - and explained - its new Deals Platform. This is where local merchants finally get a chance to play in the Places and location-based services by offering discounts to nearby visitors as an incentive to come on in. It's an interesting approach because it allows businesses to finally interact with mobile users who are using phones to find a nearby restaurant, coffee, shop, deli and more. A discount, obviously, becomes an incentive for a customer to enter the business - and that's what businesses want after all. (And don't forget the advertising potential on those apps, too.)
Zuckerberg wrapped up the event with one big takeaway - the idea that both mobile and social are growing at a revolutionary pace. Zuckerberg said:
What we've seen is that you can basically take or rethink any product area to be social so you take all of the interaction and have it be a lot more engaging, have it grow virally and remake whole industries. Mobile is a big area of expansion and building social apps is as big. When you combine them, it creates big opportunities for new companies to be built and industries to get disrupted.
And just to throw some controversy in this announcement, the company was asked about these features for an iPad. Zuckerberg's quick response of "The iPad is not mobile.Next question." was followed by a around of "oooh"s, to which Zuckerberg repeated that the iPad is not a mobile device. "It's a computer." And then he immediately back-pedaled. He said:
I didn't mean to be rude to Apple but we're focused on what we're doing today. I think iPad is not a mobile platform the way a phone is.