Commentary

Facebook's HTC Phone: It's All About Eyeballs

As recently as last summer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to be telling analysts that it would be somewhat daffy for his social network to get into the hardware business, yet here he is poised to take the stage with HTC later today to, a plethora of reports tell us, not only show off its “New Home on Android,” as the media invites have it, but also to unwrap a Facebook smartphone.

"There are lots of things that you can build in other operating systems, as well, that aren't really like building out a whole phone, which I think wouldn't really make much sense for us to do," Zuckerberg said in an analysts call in July covered by CNN’s Doug Gross. 

Okay, it’s a little (purposely?) convoluted and he didn’t actually say daffy, but you get the gist. What gives?

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“It’s looking like Zuck was being almost completely honest,” TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak wrote earlier this week, Facebook isn’t building a Facebook phone. They’re letting HTC do it for them.” 

You can watch the housewarming event, which kicks off from at 10 a.m. Pacific time from 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park, Calif., on Facebook Live. All the usual suspects will be live blogging, of course.

We’d write that this is one of techdom’s worst-kept secrets since Bell reached Watson, but who surprises anybody since Steve Jobs is gone? Indeed, “the upcoming Facebook phone has been leaked online as the HTC First, codenamed Myst,” PCAdvisor reports, crediting @evleaks with having it first. 

There have always been astute observers out there who suspected that Zuck perhaps wasn’t showing the world his hole card. Gross, in fact, pointed to All Things Digital’s Mike Isaac, who wrote back then: “Nobody, including AllThingsD, ever said Facebook was building its own phone. As my colleagues reported last year, Facebook tapped Taiwanese cellphone manufacturer HTC as a partner in working on a Facebook phone, one that has the social network’s platform fully integrated deep into the core of the hardware.”

Zuckerberg also said at the time: “We want to not just have apps that people use, but also be kind of as deeply integrated into these systems as possible.”

And you don’t do that by sitting around waiting for Apple to do it for you, do you?

In a related story on the exploding app market in the Wall Street Journal this morning (“Apps Fall Far From Apple’s Tree”), Rolfe Winkler reports that “there can be no doubt that smartphones have become the dominant computing device. Last year, nearly 700 million of them were shipped worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics, a research firm. That was nearly double IDC's estimate for PC shipments of 352 million.”

Today’s announcement by Facebook, Winkler posits, is all about its desire “to grab even more of mobile users' time. Controlling that will be the key to billions of dollars of advertising and other revenue in the near future.”

Not that it doesn’t already command a sizable chunk of users’ face time. 

“How addicted are we to Facebook?” asks CIO.com’s Kristin Burnham, with the answer at the ready: “very.” According to a new report -- "Always Connected: How Smartphones and Social Keep Us Connected" -- the average user checks Facebook on their smartphone 14 times a day. In conjunction with Facebook, IDC surveyed 7,446 iPhone and Android users in the U.S. between 18 and 44 for the study. 

“Facebook's expected unveiling of an HTC phone with a custom version of Android that heavily integrates its social graph … marks the company's debut as a player in the mobile hardware ecosystem, but also potentially as a big consumer marketer,” write Cotton Delo and John McDermott in Ad Age. Stay tuned for how that actually plays out.

With all this hoopla about the new device, Forbes contributor Robert Hof tells us that “it’s really not about the phone.

“Between its newish Facebook Exchange that allows marketers to target people based on Web browsing habits and new ad formats that look like other ads on the Web, Facebook is clearly aiming to provide marketers with a broad platform on which to reach prospective customers,” Hof elaborates. “But to do that, it needs a large, growing, and engaged audience.”

Indeed, “the details of the would-be Facebook-centric phone are under wraps. But the motivation is certain,” writes Somini Sengupta in the New York Times, with a backup quote from Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb: “Facebook would like to be, literally and figuratively, as close to its users as its users are to their phones, within arm’s reach when they are searching for information, news, time wasting, shopping, communication.” 

What? They’re leaving “whispering sweet nothings” alone?

2 comments about "Facebook's HTC Phone: It's All About Eyeballs".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 4, 2013 at 9:28 a.m.

    I wanna meet the Forbes reader that has the guts to carry a phone recommended by his daughter's BFF. Hmmm, I'll take the pink one!

    At one point do we stop following this foolishness over the cliff?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 4, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.

    What A great oligarchy product !

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