This morning, I asked over on ZDNet Education if Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark Public Schools might not be motivated in part by branding around a pending release of a Facebook phone. Larry Dignan isn't sure about prospects for a Facebook phone, regardless of how much money Zuckerberg donates to any school. I, however, am going to call him out on this one. A Facebook phone would not only be huge for Facebook and whatever carrier bags it, but the phone would be huge for Android.
Yeah, yeah, I know, the phone is technically a rumor, but even Zuckerberg, while denying a Facebook OS for a phone explained that "Our strategy is very horizontal. We're trying to build a social layer for everything." Right. Like for the new Android phones that Bloomberg reported on earlier today.
As Facebook representatives said, "Facebook is not building a phone." Right. Because INQ is building it for them.
Regardless, if Facebook could actually add a reasonable social layer to an Android phone (unlike HTC's miserable Sense UI), making it utterly simple, with no user intervention, downloading or modification, to interact with Facebook, then we could finally see one of the killer Android phones for which developers have been hoping.
I'm not a huge Facebook fan. I need to keep an eye on my kids and my mom needs to see pictures of her grandkids somehow, so it's something of a necessary evil in my life. However, even my wife, who eschews technology in virtually every way she can, is drawn to Facebook. My mom, who finally figured out how to outsource her company's web development to a vaguely competent programmer and host, is a Facebook monster (I mean that in the nicest possible way, Mom). I, like an awful lot of geeks, don't love Facebook. For better or worse, however, everyone else in the free world does.
Take the relatively geeky Android platform, put it on a slick phone, and call it a Facebook phone, though, and suddenly Android just might be able to reach a level of comfort and ubiquity that only the iPhone has been able to inspire among a broad cross-section of users. We're not talking the technorati here or the enterprise users looking at advanced alternatives to RIM devices. We're talking about moms, dads, grandparents, tweens, teens, college kids, and anyone else who accesses Facebook more than any other site. Make sure that Flash 10.1 is fully supported, too, so people can play mobile versions of those awful Zynga games and you're there. The phone will sell faster than INQ can make it and it will be able to go head to head with the iPhone. It might not be as good as the iPhone, but deep integration of Facebook and the Facebook brand will ensure that non-geeks happily overlook any technical shortcomings.
The only possible downside? Right now, rumor has it that the device (or devices) would drop on AT&T. Two words, folks: Verizon Wireless.
Am I overstating the case for a Facebook phone? I don't think I am, but I'm sure you'll tell me what you think in the talkbacks.