Commentary

Every Phone Is A Facebook Phone

Facebook

After a TechCrunch report that Facebook was secretly building its own mobile phone swept through the tech blogosphere Sunday, the company issued a statement denying the report. The article said Facebook was developing an operating system to be used in conjunction with hardware supplied by a third party.

But Facebook said it ain't so. "Facebook is not building a phone," read a statement sent out Sunday by company spokesperson Jaime Schopflin, which emphasized that Facebook continues to work on various projects -- including an HTML5 version of the site -- to integrate its social tools more deeply into mobile platforms.

"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," read the statement. It concluded: "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."

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Facebook also pointed out that the first "so-called Facebook phone," was the INQ1 phone with Facebook integration that was launched in 2008 by handset maker INQ. Since then, many other carriers and manufacturers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Motorola and Microsoft, have introduced social networking-centric phones in an effort to capitalize on the Facebook-led phenomenon.

Let me add a bottom line to Facebook's bottom line above: any phone that can access Facebook via mobile Web browser, app or text message anywhere in the world is a Facebook phone. With 150 million mobile users globally and counting, it's not as if Facebook needs a secret weapon device-wise to ramp up adoption.

ComScore reported in June that social networking is the fastest growing content category both on browsers and applications, with Facebook being the biggest beneficiary of that trend. And with users spending far more time on average on Facebook than other major sites like Yahoo and Google, that behavior should extend to mobile.

Even if Facebook were to create its own custom phone, would it have a huge impact either way? Google earlier this year debuted its own directly sold smartphone with much fanfare, only to pull the plug on the Nexus One six months later. That hasn't stopped its Android operating system from flourishing on other phones, becoming the top-selling smartphone platform in the U.S. in the second quarter, according to Gartner.

Similarly, if Facebook launched a dedicated device that turned out to be a dud, would millions of people stop using Facebook on mobile phones? Obviously not. Whatever steps Facebook takes to insure its social feature are woven more deeply into phones, it would make sense to apply across as many different devices as possible.

And while the high end of the market may hold the most immediate promise for Facebook in generating advertising and transactional revenue, offerings like Facebook Zero show the company is also catering to users in emerging markets at the low end. Eventually, those Facebook members will own smartphones, too. But they probably won't call them Facebook phones.

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