“Facebook Phone” Still Probable? A Few Different Perspectives

21 Jan

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (picture from: complex.com)

It isn’t difficult to imagine the disappointment on January 15, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pulled out of his hat not a smartphone with the trademark company logo engraved on its back, but rather the details of an online search engine known as Graph Search. The search tool, which allows people to look up content based on what Facebook users are currently sharing, is no doubt a respectable achievement, a feat which would be difficult to accomplish without the involvement of some innovative thinking and a user base numbering at the billion mark. The problem, as of this moment, is the lack of genuine hype. Looking at the social networking company’s recently declined stock prices, the privacy concerns surrounding the new search tool, and the various “similarity” comparisons being made with Google, it’s safe to say that there are a good number of people out there—investors, in particular—who would have probably preferred seeing a Facebook phone instead.

The same old questions, hence, will rise up again and again: Will Facebook, with all its financial resources and engineering talent, ever make the gamble and venture into smartphone territory? Is it still practical for consumers to cling onto the hopes of seeing a Facebook Phone, even after the public denials from Zuckerberg? Below, we list out three potential outcomes, based on what has been observed lately.

Scenario 1. Facebook is still serious about a smartphone, but may delay its release into the distant future. As rumors of HTC’s mysterious “OperaUL” and its alleged connection with Facebook have yet to be proven false, and as public statementseven those coming out of the mouths of CEOsare not always indicative of what will actually happen (take, for instance, Steve Jobs’ comments regarding the prospects a mini tablet), a few glimmers of hope remain. Even though smartphones generally imply some sort of exclusivity –a factor which could potentially clash with Zuckerberg’s “Facebook-is-for-everyone” principle—it is not impossible for the social network company to come up with a phone that makes intuitive use of Facebook’s current features without excluding any of its users.

Scenario 2. Facebook will focus on creating a mobile OS rather than an actual mobile phone. Days before the January 15 press event, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler made mention of an interesting theory: Rather than building a physical handset, the social network company may instead opt to create its own platform, which could either be based on an existing version of Android or be created from an entirely clean slate. The mobile OS market is currently a crowded place, with dominant systems such as the iOS and Android joined by the likes of Windows 8, the Firefox OS, and –soon— RIM’s new Blackberry platform. Facebook’s advantage would be its already large user base and people’s general familiarity with its interface. Whether the social network’s mobile users will find it practical to access Facebook through its own OS, though, is questionable, and may be among the reasons preventing the company from creating an exclusive platform.

Scenario 3. Facebook will build neither a phone nor a mobile OS, but focus on expanding its ecosystem on every mobile platform. This seems pretty much in line with what the company has been doing all along, and is perhaps one of the subtle points that Zuckerberg was trying to get across during the January 15 meeting. For the past few months, we’ve seen a number of Facebook mobile app updates that improves as well as strengthens their accessibility to smartphone users. Other than Graph Search, programs such as the messenger app, which lets people make free calls through Wi-Fi connections or cellular connectivity, give people a good reason to center their attention on Facebook.With more and more features and upgrades being made available on multiple mobile platforms, the 「Facebook phone,」 as sources like WSJ has put it, may technically already be on everyone’s hands.

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