Why a Facebook phone doesn't stand a chance

Why a Facebook phone doesn't stand a chance

Summary: Perhaps Facebook is using the specter of developing its own handset as leverage against Apple to get its service integrated into iOS?


A persistent rumor has resurfaced which suggests that Facebook is planning to build a smartphone. The idea that the social network giant should develop its own smartphone makes no more sense now than it did the first time it was rumored back in 2010.

According to the New York Times, Facebook "has already hired more than half a dozen former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad".

The reason suggested for this move into hardware -- relevance.

"Mark [Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO] is worried that if he doesn't create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms," a Facebook employee told the Times.

This is the third time that a semi-credible Facebook phone rumor has come up. Back on 2010, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was working on a smartphone, and then in 2011 it was the turn of AllThingsD to pick up on the rumor and run with it.

As to whether Facebook is toying internally with the idea of a smartphone, I don't know. But what strikes me about all these rumors is that they fail to address why a smartphone is a key component in the Facebook strategy. Hardware is an enormously risky business; ask companies such as RIM or Motorola and they will tell you just how risky it can be. There is massive scope for failure, and an equally massive scope for burning through huge piles of cash in the process.

What's more, the key factor of how a Facebook phone will offer a different experience from a Facebook app or simply visiting the Facebook website via the browser is not explained. What differentiates the hardware experience from the app experience? This is crucial, since people are going to be expected to trade up their existing phone -- on which they can access Facebook for free via the app or browser -- and buy another handset. If there isn't a clear advantage as to why people should buy the hardware -- beyond bragging rights -- then the idea is doomed.

Right now, the strategy doesn't seem to consist of much more than slapping the Facebook logo on some hardware. And even that's been tried before.

I wonder if this Facebook phone idea -- if it exists -- isn't being driven by the fact that Twitter now enjoys cozy integration into Apple's iOS platform, giving that social network site a foot in the door into millions of iPhones and iPads. Twitter users are just a username and password away from using the service, while Facebook users have to download and install an app. Perhaps Facebook is using the specter of developing its own handset as leverage against Apple to get its service integrated into iOS?

While that's an interesting idea, I'm not sure Apple works that way. I doubt that Apple would be threatened by any smartphone endeavor that Facebook might have planned.

If Facebook has ideas on how to make its service more usable on smartphones, it seems counterintuitive to not be designing the apps with this in mind already. I know the company is now in a position where it has to be seen to be trying to make money, but chiseling the end user by expecting them to buy a smartphone doesn't seem like a smart place to start.


Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Foolish

    Many bloggers said the same about the iPhone. Yeah, yeah, I know it's not "exactly" the same thing, but it does not have to be.

    It seems that some Apple bloggers are running scared about the possibility of a Facebook phone. They are afraid of losing revenue. Nothing else. Time to adjust, however.
    • I agree

      What is the world coming to when every phone "needs" Chatty Cathy crap "integrated"? Seriously What is the world turning into, a bunch of High School Girls? "Oh Jimmy said something about Billy". Is this what Corporate America is concerned with?
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Apparently so

        I agree with you as well
      • Chatty Cathies

        @markbn, you seem to be a real hep cat, up on all the latest groovy gadgets that the kids all want. You predict the FB Phone is going to be Number One on American Top 40, the next fad like Rock-n-Roll, or you just want to talk jive about Apple 2 owners and then 23 Skidoo?

        @Jumpin Jack Flash, haven't we already become talking dolls? I mean, Twitter? FB? Txt-ing? Their popularity shows that a large portion of us are already back to being sophomores. Corporate America is concerned with what is popular and that they can get people to buy, but an FB phone hasn't a chance because of all the things in this article and more.
      • Agreed!

        I don't use the Twitter integration on my iPhone - I use TweekDeck for those rare times I'm on Twitter and I'm good with the FaceBook app. I honestly could care less if FB is integrated in the next iPhone/iOS/Android/WP/whatever as long as there is an app I can use.
      • You'd think

        It's sad but true. Teachers have TELL students not to log onto FB in class and not to update their pages. This SHOULD be common sense but it's not. Students still login and update FB in class. Less so in the actual computer science classes but I see it in my art classes. Why bother paying tuition if you're just going to be on FB? Idiots. This is why FB thinks it has a chance with its phone.

        It doesn't because students are poor. That's why they're updating in class - that and they're stupid but still... poor.
    • Not even close to the same thing

      Apple is primarily a hardware company. It makes perfect sense that they would make a phone. It may have been shocking at first because they were known for computers/mp3 players, but it's not all that surprising that a company known for its hardware would make more hardware. Microsoft also makes sense with windows phones. They're a software company, the mobile platform is growing, so they make mobile software.

      Facebook is a website. A website accessible from any phone with internet access (which goes back a long way). You can already get to facebook multiple ways from any smartphone, there is literally no incentive to buy a phone based entirely on that. They've already made a phone with a "facebook" button, and it never caught on.
      • Agree

        It simply makes no sense. Amazon did well with the Fire in the tablet arena though they aren't a tech company, but that thing is integrated into selling their products, is extremely cheap and they are still losing money on the sales of the device. I see no way FB could produce something, particularly a more intricate and complex smart phone (the fire is at best a rudimentary tablet -Yes, I have one), and take the loss selling so cheaply would require in order for them to sell the devices. But to think otherwise is to be a true Facebook Friend, I guess.
      • @trejz

        I agree with you on the Fire. I also have one, and it's definitely not what I would buy if looking for a tablet in general. However if you want an E-Reader that also has a lot of tablet functionality and don't want to pay a ton, it is perfect. Amazon created a device to distribute one of their services, because nobody else was really making e-readers. What is facebook going to distribute through their phone that isn't already in the many FB apps or available through the actual website?
    • ...not as foolish as those that believe Facebook is relevant.

      Facebook's IPO speaks volumes about how people, technologists, trend-setters, and other movers and shakers feel about a website dedicated to the pointless chatter of everyday people.

      Nobody bought the stock, and nobody is going to buy a phone.
      • floggin the donkey

    • FB phone?

      When Facebook learns how to build a FB app, I might, for a nano-second, think about "running scared" about the possibility of a FB phone. Then I'll laugh and move along.
  • Assuming Facebook users would...

    Jump to buy a phone made by Facebook is wishful thinking.

    The only way Facebook could make such a device would be to reserve new features exclusively for their device. And I strongly doubt they would go this route.

    If this rumor is any true, Facebook would be opening a new war front that will consume an insane amount of work and money (which they have though!). Also, they would have to enter this battlefield with something significantly different to avoid becoming just another flavor of an existing mobile OS.

    Are we in for a surprise?
    • I doubt it

      The more they try to dazzle us the greater the risk of introducing new bugs and flaws in design.
  • Facebook Already turned Apple Down

    I can't find the original report but apparently before the iPhone developed its relationship with Twitter, Jobs approached Zuckerberg about integration with the iPhone. An agreement couldn't be reached because of a conflict over "information sharing" whatever that means.
    • Facebook is a better fit with

      Microsoft, as they're both really big on indexing every second of your life. Some weirdos think you need to be on Facebook 24/7, and Microsoft "needs" to know what you're doing 24/7, to better serve ads to you.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Ad Company?

        Sorry but Microsoft is a software company while Facebook and Google are advertising companies. Whether or not they are a better fit for Facebook is another question entirely. Maybe, maybe not.
      • thekman58

        What do you think Bing is all about? Ad revenue. Microsoft will be better able to sell you to advertisers, if the have more information to sell to the advertisers. You can believe the Microsoft Fanboys, or the facts.
        This is the answer from Mcrosoft, and Facebook

        Microsoft is trying to become "Google on Steroids" Microsoft wants to provide your Computer's OS, your phone's OS, in facts they want their OS on everything you touch. Microsoft also want to be your search resource, so they can index your searches, based on location, and time of day. Once they can index your daily routine they can then sell your demographic information, and your search habits to advertizes. I know Google is doing the same thing. The only difference is Microsoft is saying Google is Bad for doing it, while Microsoft is doing the same thing.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
  • Microsoft owns a portion of Facebook.

    This is why Facebook makes 100% of your Facebook data Bing searchable.



    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • Yes, the ususal 'MS is full of bad people'

      post. Boo Hoo.
      William Farrel