Commentary

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facebook Phone

There's a new debate about Facebook that's making echo chambers implode. No, it's not whether "Catfish" or "The Social Network" will prove to be the better Facebook movie, or whether David Fincher's next movie will be a remake of his own "Se7en" with Mark Zuckerberg as the serial killer. This time, it's about whether Facebook is developing a phone.

Despite Facebook's public denials, TechCrunch followed up its exclusive with a post deconstructing and debunking Facebook's spin. Facebook's PR team keeps saying it's not technically manufacturing a phone, which would be true. It's like if I say I'm not making Toll House cookies when I'm really just heating up the pre-made cookie dough; my end result is a batch of cookies just like Facebook's end result is a phone.

What's funny about all of this is that if TechCrunch is right and Facebook is developing its own branded phone, some of Facebook's denials become even more right. Consider this language from Facebook's official statement: "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." Even if this is, in the words of TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, "vague language Facebook will point back to later to show they weren't outright lying," it's a compelling argument for why Facebook doesn't need a phone at all.

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If I'm playing the role of the judge here, the evidence I've seen for Facebook coming out with a phone is stronger than the evidence against it. There are several good reasons why Facebook shouldn't come out with a phone, though:

1) We already have a Facebook phone. It's called the phone. Facebook is one of the top applications in every major smartphone app store. Beyond that, Ground Truth reported that social media accounts for 60% of mobile web pageviews. I keep thinking back to a moment on a recent flight when I was next to the mother of a 13-year-old girl sitting behind us. Within 60 seconds of hitting the ground, not only did the daughter update her Facebook status, but her mom commented on it. Our current devices make Facebook plenty accessible.

2) We already have a Facebook phone. It's called Android. While Facebook's denials played up the iPhone connections, I like the Android integration even better. On Android, it's far easier to share photos and links through Facebook or other social properties, and syncing phone contacts with Facebook profiles is seamless. One of the 8,000 rumors about this Facebook Phone is that it's being built on Android, which would be the most logical option. Would a MySpace app be able to run on it, though? Internationally, would it welcome competitors like Mixi? More food for thought.

3) Facebook has the carrier relationships already. Facebook reports that there are more than 200 mobile operators in 60 countries deploying Facebook mobile offerings. On one hand, adding a Facebook phone could be a revenue generator for them, but on the other, it could complicate existing relationships. 

4) Remember Google's Nexus One? Thought so.

5) Facebook's future holds Zero promise. I love 0.facebook.com, the program allowing people in 45 countries to access a scaled-down version of Facebook without data charges. That's groundbreaking, far-reaching and potentially world-changing in the way it can allow people everywhere to communicate with each other. In other words, it's far more impactful than adding another phone to the marketplace.

6) How many phone commercials have you seen featuring Facebook? Just about any time a new phone comes out, at least one of the images or commercials includes a Facebook reference. Facebook is already changing how manufacturers are designing phones. What else can Facebook possibly want to change, the color of the handset?

The "will they or won't they" meter is tipping toward Facebook developing some kind of phone. Yet Facebook already has one of the most innovative, pervasive mobile offerings that works well without them designing the hardware. Odds are you own a Facebook phone already. If you're like me, you own two. The only way Facebook could be more easily accessible is if it becomes surgically implanted in your brain. I can't wait to see how Facebook denies that rumor.

4 comments about "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facebook Phone".
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  1. Mike Azzara from Content Marketing Partners, September 21, 2010 at 2:42 p.m.

    The only thing I can think of is that Facebook is concerned that Google Android is well on its way to world smartphone domination, and Google is clearly developing competitive social network capabilities. Maybe they fear Google will do something with the Android platform to hurt Facebook accessibility, once domination is complete? Maybe they don't understand the lack of control Google has over that aspect, given the availability of open source for Android? At this point, it would require a vast conspiracy of Google, the Andriod manufacturers and the mobile carrier. Not actually much of a threat.

  2. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, September 21, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.

    My Nexus One works great- even in Ecuador and Canada this past summer, and hopefully the Swiss Alps this January when I go skiing Zermatt.

  3. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, September 21, 2010 at 6:24 p.m.

    David - Great column. Your briefest point was the most pointed: like Google, Facebook does not have the infrastructure or DNA to offer and support a consumer device. Perhaps this is just a vanity thing these guys need to do now. But I don't see Facebook becoming any real threat to a) Blackberry's mobile for business domination b) Android's Open Source smartphone domination or c) Apple's domination of the luxury smartphone/mobile device market.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 22, 2010 at 9:19 p.m.

    So you think brand extensions are foolish? So Apple should have stuck to computers and ipods, because Motorola and Blackberry and Nokia already made phones? That's crazy talk.

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