That’s the gist of a far-fetched rumor going around, hand-in-hand with rumors that Facebook is looking to acquire Opera Software, proprietors of the Opera Web Browser. That deal (if it happens), combined with the recently announced Facebook Camera app and Facebook’s new multiplatform app store, has some thinking that Facebook is putting together a collection of apps for a future mobile OS, and a future smartphone. The Olympics haven’t even started yet, but it looks like the long jump competition is already off to a roaring start.
Even assuming Facebook purchases Opera, there’s a big difference between having a bunch of core apps and having a full operating system. Some have suggested that Facebook could build an operating system around the open source Android, which is possible, but would still represent a monumental amount of risk for the newly public Facebook. One does not simply walk into today’s smartphone market, with established players like Research in Motion struggling just to survive with the competition narrowing down to Google and Android, with Microsoft making at least a little noise.
The fact that Facebook lacks mobile experience also suggests that this rumor might be going a little too far, at least right now. For this to work, Facebook would also need to find a suitable partner to manufacture the physical device, while improving their current mobile apps drastically. After all, it’s not enough to have a set of core apps – they need to be popular, and Facebook’s mobile apps don’t exactly have a history of rave reviews. Facebook would have a great advantage leveraging its strengths to make a superior contact list, but it’s doubtful that will excite enough people to get on board with a Facebook phone.
Entering the smartphone market is a ponderous and very expensive investment. Even if Facebook makes the right moves, grabbing a significant enough market share to see profitability is by no means guaranteed. Facebook does need to find other ways to make money besides advertising – otherwise, their already poorly performing stock will keep on heading south. Is a Facebook phone the answer to that problem? It’s possible, but it’s just as possible that the move could represent a blunder that would bring the company even more grief. Somehow, I don’t think that fact is lost on Mark Zuckerberg.