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Facebook Smartphone a Dumb Idea, Says Farhad Manjoo 128

Posted by timothy
from the it'd-have-to-have-a-pretty-fancy-gimmick dept.
beaverdownunder writes "Farhad Manjoo examines Facebook's rumoured entry into the smartphone market, concluding, 'So what would be the point in using the Facebook phone? Well, remember, it will be cheap. But so are lots of Android phones. If Facebook makes a phone, then, the device will necessarily spark a battle for the low end of the phone market, with each company offering ever-cheaper devices in the hopes of cashing in on some future advertising bonanza. If you're looking for a cheap, ad-heavy phone based on a dubious business model, you should rejoice. Otherwise, try to stifle your yawns.'"
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Facebook Smartphone a Dumb Idea, Says Farhad Manjoo

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @08:05AM (#40200451)

    Never mind a Facebook phone.... *Facebook* is a dumb idea, and look at how that exploded in popularity.

    The very dumbest ideas often seem to succeed wildly.

  • Not dumb at all (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zome (546331) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @08:23AM (#40200523)
    This is what facebook will do to their phone. It will create a new phone platform with its own API. This API will be compatible with the phone AND the web. In another word, you write a game using this API once, and it will run in your browser, and on your phone. When people make in-game purchase, facebook gets a cut. This is how they will make money on the mobile platform. They won't make any money if facebook is just an app on any phone facebook doesn't own. This is why MarkZ is worrying.

    Given that there are far more facebook users than iphone or android combined, if you are mobile game/app developer, would you write your program using this API? I would. Suddenly, facebook can compete with iOS and android for developers attentions. Something RM and MS are trying so hard to do for sometime.
  • by swb (14022) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @08:53AM (#40200687)

    The Facebook phone is for people who look at the Internet and communications through a social media lens. They aren't thinking about a smart phone from a technology perspective or even so much as an app perspective. For them, their phone (likely a feature phone with a slideout keyboard, used primarily for texting) is really a social connector used to send text messages. For them, the internet is the web only and social media almost exclusively. They use Facebook a lot, and Facebook messaging and chat instead of email and IM.

      I think there are a lot of people out there like this, especially in less well educated circles, lower income groups, among younger people and the technologically unsophisticated.

    I know people who had computers but seldom used them -- emailing them was never a good idea, they might read email once a week. Once they discover Facebook, they're on the computer all the time, but almost exclusively on Facebook. It's become their predominant computer activity.

    Their cell phone? Probably some ancient flip. When their carrier EOLs it and they have to upgrade, they might find a Facebook phone -- subsidized by advertising to keep it cost competitive with the lowest end phones from both a device AND service perspective.

    Anyway, I think this locus of groups would probably find a Facebook phone appealing. To anyone else who remotely knows what a smartphone is or has a use for one otherwise? A non-starter. But thinking of a Facebook phone only in terms of direct competition with other phones is a mistake.

  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:55AM (#40201023)

    Facebook is making a phone because Facebook is a huge brand and people will buy it just because it has the Facebook logo on the case.

    The thing about that is that mobile phones are incredibly difficult products. You can easily make a good in shop demo. The first few people may well buy the phone and try it. However, as Microsoft is finding out with Windows Phone, once the early adopters find they have a dud, no amount of marketing can fix that. Your phone is with you all the time; it represents you. If you pull out a Windows based mobile phone you look like a dork and people laugh at you behind your back. Bad mobile phones have a real potential to destroy great brands and have done so many times over; think of Ericsson, Benefon, Sendo, Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, etc. etc.Think about how Microsoft has fallen from about 38% smart phone market share to below 5% even with all their resources available. Think about how Nokia is being totally destroyed by their Windows Phone failures.

    Facebook can make a success about this, but they will need many things:

    • at least one, preferably two of the tier one manufacturers; Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson or even Nokia*
    • a fully functional OS platform controlled by Facebook
    • a clear way to persuade the manufacturers that Facebook can't use that control against them
    • a complete mobile ecosystem
    • a way to differentiate strongly from Microsoft and Google
    • serious levels of developer involvement and open source efficiency
    • top levels of operator buy in

    Microsoft is desperate enough that they might give Zuck a deal that looks almost good enough; certainly lots better than the deal Nokia seems to have got. However, I think Zuck already knows he's getting associated with being a loser and so the risk of such a deal would be far too great. In any case, Microsoft having brought Nokia down after the "Burning Platforms" memo; they will have great difficulty delivering even close to most of the points above and there's no real sign that they will ever get it together so there may be nothing that could ever fix their platform.

    My feeling? This is possible, but you would have to do something like

    • Make an Android fork, but add in WebOS and/or Mer features to make it different
    • Move lots of new Android code under the GPLv3 or equivalent in order to stop Google from benefiting in turn
    • push lots of Facebook interfaces into the OS
    • Make a more iOS like walled garden app store than the Google one.

    By going with Android binary compatibility Zuck would guarantee that he starts with the apps base he needs. By going with the GPLv3 he knows he will piss off Google who hates that license more than anything. By pissing off Google he will get allies and differentiation.

    In the end, however, it's the operators who will decide. They know that there can be no more than three smartphone operating systems. They had hoped Microsoft would take over Blackberry's and Symbian's position as those two fail. With Microsoft's Skype strategy the operators became afraid that Microsoft will come for them. Now that MS is clearly going to fail in the market, they will be happy to look for a new alternative. A Facebook Android fork would look like a cheap way to get that.

    * Motorola ruled out from potential partners since I doubt Google will play. Apple ruled out since I'm pretty sure they won't play. LG, NEC, ZTE etc. ruled out as just too small or too regional.

  • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbengt (874751) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @12:51PM (#40202191)

    Commissioned sales are done exclusively in intensely competitive markets. Why? Because the only money to be made is off the suckers who will fall for high pressure sales.

    My experience is a counterexample. Commissioned sales is the norm in the construction industry, but that does not include suckers who fall for high pressure sales. On the contrary, the sellers relying on commissions are the ones who are pressured. They often help the buyers design the systems and select the equipment they are selling, yet still have to come with the low price under several other suppliers in order to get the sale. The buyers often play the sellers bids' against the others in order to lower the price of the equipment and materials they would prefer - or just go with the cheaper crap if they think they can get away with it.

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

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