Is Facebook Really Coming Out With A Phone?

Posted on September 24, 2010 in Sci- Tech

By Prateek Waghre:

Who says we aren’t innovative! Heck, Micromax even beat Facebook to a Facebook Phone. But jokes aside, late on Saturday night (IST) Michael Arrington of TechCrunch broke the news(rumour?) that Facebook has been secretly working a mobile phone platform. And if this is true, it certainly makes sense because over the last few months Facebook has taken some big steps in expanding their dominance to all areas of the web.

Arrington went on to name 2 employees that are the prime suspects - Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos. Both have a strong history of working on operating systems.

Joe Hewitt is famous for his anti iPhone development rant, but he was part of the team that created Firefox and was working with a ‘web based operating system’ Parakey until it was acquired by guess who, Facebook. Papakipos, was a Google employee until June, and not just any employee, he was the lead of the ChromeOS project. Arrington speculates here that perhaps the only thing interesting enough to lure him away from ChromeOS was perhaps a Facebook phone.

Naturally this story(rumour?) spread like fire. Business Insider’s Dan Frommer says the Idea of a Facebook Phone is one of the ‘ juicier, wackier ‘ rumours he heard on his recent trip to the valley, while he goes on to rue the fact that he was beaten to the punch.

Here are some reasons why a Facebook phone, or an OS, or even a ‘Social Layer’ is not a bad idea for Facebook

The future is mobile, everyone knows that. Unlike the desktop where the browser is a necessary and sufficient weapon in Facebook’s bid for domination, mobile is a different game. If it is to establish the same kind of clout it needs to go beyond inane status updates. iOS is never going to let Facebook into the nitty gritty of its prized OS. And frankly, I don’t see the ‘BlackBerry Boys’ going that way either. Android on the other hand, could be used with a social layer on top. But this would hurt Google’s own social plans.

2010-2020 is expected to be the decade of Facebook, it has already has users locked into the website and extending that to the mobile space could be the final step. As the spaces merge Apple, Google and maybe even Microsoft will be in a battle against Facebook for overall supremacy. Facebook as a stand alone platform will be much harder to beat than ‘The Soclal Network’.

24 Hours after the TechCrunch post Facebook responded with a statement —

“The story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone. Our approach has always been to make phones and apps more social. Current projects include include everything from an HTML5 version of the site to apps on major platforms to full Connect support with SDKs to deeper integrations with some manufacturers. Our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social, so integrating deeply into existing platforms and operating systems is a good way to enable this. For an example, check out Connect for iPhone and the integration we have with contact syncing through our iPhone app. Another example is the INQ1 phone with Facebook integration (the first so-called ‘Facebook Phone’). The people mentioned in the story are working on these projects. The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a “Facebook Phone” because that’s such an attractive soundbite, but building phones is just not what we do.”

What is interesting about this statement is that it isn’t a clear denial by any stretch. Just a bunch of statements thrown together to look like one. Something they can point to later and say – ‘Technically, we weren’t lying’. Sounds like a ‘cookie cutter’ PR denial. Apple, Google, Microsoft el al are all guilty such ‘denials’ in the past. iPhone/iPad, Google Phone, Zune Phone.

Understandably, Michael Arrington was not amused by this and immediately tweeted his disgusted, followed by a full blown post (rant?).

So, at the end, the only question remains? Is Facebook really building a phone? I’m leaning towards yes, but we wont see it anytime soon.

From the writers blog post at http://www.watblog.com/2010/09/21/so-is-facebook-really-making-a-phone/

Image courtesy: http://www.ktla.com/news/cyberguy/stv-cyberguy-facebook-phone-092010,0,6000764.story

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