Like a foul smell from a storm drain on a 100 degree day, new Facebook phone rumors have wafted up from the world of “those with knowledge of the matter.”
The new rumor is that Facebook is working alongside HTC to produce a Facebook smartphone, which would run a Facebook OS that will almost certainly be a variant of Android. According to the rumors, that phone was originally slated for release this year, but has been pushed back to next year to “give HTC more time to work on other products,” which tells you a little something about how big of a priority this is for HTC, if it’s true.
HTC is no stranger to the general concept of a “Facebook phone.” The HTC Status was a low-range Android phone with a dedicated physical Facebook button and extensive Facebook integration. The main problem with the Status is that no one actually bought the thing, which makes you wonder about how a future Facebook-HTC enterprise will fare.
In fact, HTC itself has been doing very poorly this year – a Bloomberg report about the rumor points out that HTC has ”seen its global smartphone market share shrink to 4.8 percent in the first quarter, down from 8.9 percent the year before,” and that “shares in HTC have dropped 43 percent this year after it reported three consecutive quarters of profit decline.” If this is a horserace, Facebook isn’t exactly picking Seabiscuit. Of course, this rumor would suggest a real Facebook phone, with a real Facebook OS. That’s something radically different.
But is it, really? It’s not clear what kind of advantages there would be to having a Facebook phone, besides being able to say you have a Facebook phone. What can Facebook do, in terms of its own social network, that every other OS isn’t capable of? More integration with Facebook? It’s hard to see that as a selling point – Facebook is a popular brand, but it is by no means a well-liked brand. The main reason people stick with Facebook, besides the fact that it remains the de facto way to keep in touch with as many people as possible, is that it’s free. A product with a price tag is something very different for Facebook. Considering a Facebook phone would probably imply more integration with the social network giant, it’s easy to imagine people might be loathe to buy it, given Facebook’s terrible history with privacy.
Not only that, but Facebook’s mobile history has been dismal enough to where their own smartphone app hasn’t been able to secure enthusiasm since its release. According to a Bloomberg report, Facebook has managed to snatch a cadre of ex-Apple software designers through various means, which could help. Still, with the app being far from satisfactory in the eyes of users (deserved or not, ultimately the most important thing), it would seem Facebook has a long way to go before they should be thinking about a whole Facebook phone.
Of course, with Facebook stock still performing poorly, Zuckerberg might be under pressure to find new revenue streams. The Bloomberg report mentions that the phone could, “woo marketers and assuage concerns dragging on the company’s shares.” And here’s where we get to the fascinating part of this whole rumor – throughout this whole post and the Bloomberg report, there hasn’t been a single mention of why, exactly, this project would be good for consumers. It’s always “Facebook needs more advertising streams,” or “Facebook needs to appease its shareholders.” How much of a priority is the end user? Is the end user a priority at all? It’s hard to tell.
It’s still early, and there are no details about what the phone would do (if it even exists in any stage of development), but it’s starting to seem like Facebook is building a Field of Dreams. Problem is, they don’t have Kevin Costner on their team. If they build it, there’s no guarantee people are going to come.