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Is Facebook Working On a Smartphone? 160

Posted by samzenpus
from the phone-a-friend dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times reports that Facebook has resumed its stealthy efforts to create a smartphone, apparently to assert its position in an Internet increasingly accessed via mobile devices, and to counter products and moves made by major competitors Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. The Times reports that Mark Zuckerberg has gotten personally involved in the project, which has recently landed several iPhone/iPad engineers from Apple. Wired ran a similar story a month ago, reporting that Facebook has ramped up its "Buffy" code-named collaboration with HTC on a phone which will probably be Android-based, support HTML5 and include a large touchscreen and high-quality camera (for Instagram). Facebook won't confirm or deny these reports."
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Is Facebook Working On a Smartphone?

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday May 28, 2012 @01:36PM (#40136417)
    If Facebook is working on a phone they will learn what Google learned when they released their first phone: customers expect and demand customer support. Facebook is not prepared to provide customer support any more than Google was.
  • Do Not Want (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FSWKU (551325) on Monday May 28, 2012 @01:37PM (#40136429)
    I'd steer clear of any smartphone that FB had a hand in making. I have a FB account, but I also have my PC setup in such a way that when I log out, FB gets NOTHING from me. With a FacePhone(tm), I'm sure there would be all kinds of things embedded into it that track everything you do so they can get better information for the market trolls (their real customers).

    Google is at least transparent with the information the stock flavors of Android have access to, and make it (relatively) easy to keep your information as exactly that - your information. The FB version I'm sure would be full of trackers that you can't turn off or uninstall, because that would make it "just another phone" and not a FacePhone(tm).

    Come to think of it, it will probably sell like crazy to the idiots who get a kick out of broadcasting every excruciatingly annoying detail of their empty lives to everyone on the Internet...
  • Privacy... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doug141 (863552) on Monday May 28, 2012 @01:38PM (#40136431)
    I wonder what THAT license agreement is going to look like...
  • Why? Why? Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xtal (49134) on Monday May 28, 2012 @01:44PM (#40136489)

    This makes as much sense as Facebook announcing they're going to build a PC.

    Why on earth would you do such a thing?

    Just an app? Facebook IS an app!

    A tip for anyone from facebook who's watching - if you want to get into hardware, at least go make a enterprise applicance for people wanting to organize their companies - privately - around social media. Throw in some storage and then negotiate the tie-ins to the bigger infrastructure to keep the advertisers happy.

    But a phone? Seriously?

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday May 28, 2012 @01:45PM (#40136501)

    In anyone buying a Facebook-branded phone, I mean. I can understand why Facebook might want to offer their own phone - a lot of people use their mobile app on iOS and Android, and yet Facebook doesn't have carte blanche access to that user's personal information and habits.

    But Facebook, popular as it is, only does a few things - and the mobile app already handles those functions reasonably well. It's hard to see them offering a compelling reason to pick up a Facebook-branded phone. I'm sure some Slashdotters will smugly refer to "sheeple" and "mindless Facebook drones"; but in reality it's unlikely there are enough of those to make this idea a commercial success.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday May 28, 2012 @02:00PM (#40136615)

    Yahoo has a much more diverse array of services though. Facebook basically has a platform API for making stuff that works on facebook. Yahoo has tie ins to e-mail (real e-mail), finances, travel shopping, internet search, maps, music players, TV translations, jobs personals etc. They do (and did) a hell of a lot more than facebook.

    I'm not really sure what facebook could do with a phone. They're a software on top of something company, google had to buy an operating system company to make android. I can't really see Facebook having a whole lot of traction making its own operating system to compete with Apple and Google. A Facebook branded phone sure, but who cares? You could put a facebook logo on a pair of speakers because they aren't in the 'music' business, I'm not sure that means much. They could make just an Android phone, again, why?

    I could see them wanting a developer phone, or developer tools, say a phone that can boot multiple versions of android (and Windows Phone 7/8), can emulate screen sizes etc. That could be a very interesting (and very lucrative) project, especially if you tie it to mobile services hosting (think amazon cloud), that works efficiently anywhere in the world. It's a decidedly developer product, but could generate revenue per app/user anywhere, and then the facebook 'app' is really just a demo. But trying to enter the consumer phone space because they have one icon of the 200 or so on my phone doesn't really seem like a great plan, and I can't seriously imagine anyone there thinking it's a great plan.

    I heard a rumour that they might look to buy out opera. It's probably a rumour, but opera is big in the mobile space. I guess that would give them a mobile browser... but why? I can see ways that facebook could use it's cash pile to make money on mobile, certainly buying opera could do that, but I'm not seeing a lot of ways facebook could make the facebook social network and privacy invasion service make money on mobile without ads. Which doesn't require apple engineers or a joint project with HTC.

  • Lost potential (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Monday May 28, 2012 @02:18PM (#40136727) Homepage

    There are a lot of things Facebook could be doing to increase revenue. Building a smart phone is not one of them. Facebook is reminding me of Microsoft: some early standing on the shoulders of giants and good timing on being second to market [wikipedia.org], then total bust on later creativity.

    Facebook has identified the lack of screen real estate on mobile devices as limiting their revenue growth. So their solution is to come out with their own phone with a larger screen? This reminds me of Microsoft's solution to Google's competition by coming out with Bing. I dunno, maybe this lack of creativity comes from the constraints of being a public company, but nevertheless it's a lack of creativity.

    Facebook should embrace the smartphone rather than fight it. Along with limited screen real estate comes continuous connectivity and more frequent interaction. Facebook should improve its ad-serving algorithm and present users with one good ad at a time instead of a panoply of irrelevant ads. Here are some ideas for you Facebook execs out there:

    1. Nice idea to make a default Facebook page for every Wikipedia entry. But they're not only all dead, they're also all locked! Why not create an automatic discussion group out of every one of those pages instead of waiting for a masochist to claim ownership of it? Then people would be more inclined to Like those pages/groups instead of ignoring them. And then Facebook would be able to create an even better profile on each user.

    2. When there is a quotation on a Facebook group dedicated to an author, how about an Amazon affiliate link to buy the book from whence it came?

    3. Expanding on #1 above, how about a DMOZ-style human-edited directory of Facebook interest pages? User interests could be determined by which portion of the DMOZ tree the user focuses on, as well as of course also encouraging users to express their interests by joining additional groups.

    4. Buy Yelp! or one of the other city guides. Facebook needs to not only know more about its users to serve more relevant ads, it needs to know what its users' desires are when they have them and are actually searching (the advantage Google has over Facebook -- e.g. GM and Facebook didn't know when users were actually in the market for a car).

    5. Allow advertisers to target fans of any given group, not just the groups/pages they own! Extending that, allow advertisers to select whether to have their ads displayed when users are actually on that group page.

    In short, Facebook needs to think, "I have room for one ad; what is the one ad I will show this user right now?" I remember Facebook used to show only one or two ads at a time. Now they show five or six. More of the same. Lack of creativity.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday May 28, 2012 @02:37PM (#40136825) Journal
    It's hard to imagine Facebook wanting their own OS, when they could more easily follow the 'android with the manufacturer's crap UI customizations on top' route. (Or do the same with whatever they are calling the twitching corpse of Maemo these days)

    If(and it's kind of a big if) they did want their 'own' phone, rather than just shipping applications for other phones, I'd expect something along the lines of Amazon's effort. Minimal or nonexistent changes to the boring under-the-hood OS stuff, fully branded interface on top and a hardware layout suited to the dominant use cases desired by Facebook.

    I wouldn't hold my breath on the 'developer phone' concept. If you just need basic emulation of screen sizes and OS versions, the SDKs for the respective products will do that in software right from the comfort of your workstation. If you need nitty-gritty testing-of-fucked-up-OpenGLES-edge-cases-on-Android-2.3-devices-with-Mali400-GPUs, you don't just need "a developer phone" you need either a huge stack of the things, or some PC-sized device containing a frankenstein's monster of ARM SoCs and peripherals from the past five years of phone development up to the present...

    Given the economics of mass production, I suspect that 'developer phone' will continue to mean "the phone the developer owns" for small-timers, a stack of purchased or gifted by platform vendors handsets for the more serious players, along with emulator testing for more basic UI reflow and screen size stuff.
  • Re:focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday May 28, 2012 @02:52PM (#40136899) Journal

    isn't that a sign of lack of focus? the same that afflicts google now?

    Unfortunately, detecting 'lack of focus' is much trickier than just looking at number of products/number of product areas. You both need to consider the possibility that the efforts are part of the same company largely in name(The badge above the door just says who built it or bought it, not uncommon for some largely-financial entity to have their sticker on a herd of operationally-independent companies), and that the efforts in multiple areas are in some way strategic. You also have to consider, of course, the distinct possibility that the company is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks because they don't know what else to do...

    In case of 'Facebook Phone', the optimists's reading would go something like this: Facebook already has a substantial investment(through its API, authentication services, and whatnot) in making it possible for 3rd parties to develop on its 'platform' so that it can more efficiently farm users. It also, because smartphones are a major and growing avenue for access to facebook, has an ongoing investment in developing high-quality phone UIs. A "Facebook Phone" project is really just a software project that is an outgrowth of their API/Auth/Payment efforts and their smartphone application efforts, along with some possible hardware spec tweaks(eg. camera, certain hard buttons to speed common facebook operations) and eventually paying an OEM to slap their sticker on it and get it out the door. Best case, it works. Worst case, most of the hard work can be immediately recycled into their existing 'platform' and 'smartphone app' development processes.

    Pessimist's reading: Team Zuck has just IPOed at a ridiculous P/E, and it's a known fact that an increasing percentage of their traffic is coming from smartphones that are a bit small to show ads, and for which nobody but Apple and the carriers are making any money. Everybody knows that MOBILE IS THE FUTURE!!!!1!~, so Facebook has to show that they still have it by starting a crash, cargo-cult, attempt to replicate the success of the iPhone, and will flail around for a while, burn some money, and end up hiring HTC/Samsung/the low bidder to puke up a generic Android device with a really shit UI skin and a hardware 'like' button...

  • by tlambert (566799) on Monday May 28, 2012 @02:59PM (#40136935)

    You know, opt you in, when you opt out, recategorize it, and since it's a new category, opt you in to the new category by default; wash, rinse, repeat.

    "By default, you are opted in to share your GPS information; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a new category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'location'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a new category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'position'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'venue'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'place'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'travelogue'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'iternarary'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'orienteering'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called '10-20'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it."

    "We now have a category of information which we have opted you in to share by default called 'safety monitoring'; you are permitted to opt out after you realize we are collecting it." ...

    -- Terry

  • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Monday May 28, 2012 @03:38PM (#40137181)

    It's hard to imagine Facebook wanting their own OS, when they could more easily follow the 'android with the manufacturer's crap UI customizations on top' route. (Or do the same with whatever they are calling the twitching corpse of Maemo these days)

    It wouldn't be hard for them to do both. Have their own OS which is an Android customization. Google has a weak license on Android, which leaves them open for robbery. Facebook can either make private branch of Android, or, if they are really clever, they can make a copyleft branch which will make it impossible for Google to incorporate back Facebook improvements whilst Facebook can still take Google ones and benefit from community involvement.

    This would leave Facebook in a good situation since they would have the strongest O/S and none of their major competitors would want to touch it. I often wonder why Nokia didn't go for this strategy; however I guess they always failed to understand open source and never opened up enough to benefit from it. Facebook has more experience in this area.

  • Re:Do Not Want (Score:1, Insightful)

    by sethmeisterg (603174) on Monday May 28, 2012 @04:07PM (#40137363)
    That's one of the best one-liners I've seen in a long time. Bravo.
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Monday May 28, 2012 @05:40PM (#40137763) Homepage Journal

    .the Zuck will make it the only way to access facebook.

    Seriously, can anybody make a case that Facebook will not end up like Myspace?

    Unless they can somehow keep time from passing and people from innovating, Facebook will end up yesterday's news.

    Everybody's on the Internet (let's say for the sake of argument). Is the future really about this one social network? The idea of social networks is going to stick around, but there's just no way that one will become the everlasting social network. Somebody will say, "Why should I have to join one social network over another social network? Why shouldn't I have a social network aggregator that lets me keep in touch with friends no matter which network they are part of? Say, a "social network of social networks". Remember "chat"? Remember when everybody had their own little IM service? People aren't just going to say, "Facebook is network enough for me!".

    What if I could choose my own interface that would let me talk to people over whichever social network they happen to be on? What about a social network protocol, that allows for something like a Thunderbird of social networks? With it's own set of filters and controls for my private information. Why should I trust Facebook to give me the tools to protect my privacy when I can do it with some client? Why should Facebook be the one making money off of my very existence?

    I'm an idiot and I don't know anything about this stuff, but even a dope like me can easily foresee a time when Facebook is sitting on the ash heap of history. Will their purchase of a browser suddenly give them the thing they need to last forever? How about the purchase of a photo-sharing social network? Their willingness to overpay to such an extent for Instagram is proof that their time in the sun is almost finished. Hell, the fact that they went public and everyone yawned is proof that their time is about up.

    I don't use Facebook. I don't care about Facebook. I care about communicating on the Internet though, and Facebook has not reached the pinnacle of possibilities for Internet communications. But it will come, unless Facebook ends up somehow owning the very idea of a social network, which considering our effed up "intellectual property" laws is a distinct possibility. I like the idea of social networks on the Internet, but I don't like any of the ones out there. I should not have to choose between one and another based upon which of my friends belongs to which social network. I don't have to choose which set of websites I will visit, and the reason I don't is because HTML is an open standard. Social networks should not be proprietary if email is not proprietary.

    I'm betting whatever finally supplants Facebook stands a pretty good chance of being more like Thunderbird. Maybe open source. But standards-based.

    Facebook is so last decade.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:24PM (#40137993) Homepage

    You must not have an iPhone.

  • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Monday May 28, 2012 @08:32PM (#40138633)

    Remember "chat"? Remember when everybody had their own little IM service?

    Remember? We're still there. What address do I give you exactly so you can chat with me? There is still the disclaimer "On XX service" attached to anything I'd exchange with you.

    Email works regardless if I'm on Notes and you're on Pine and we CC someone on Exchange, without any notion of what the back end or client is. Chat still isn't there.

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