Facebook Phone? Who cares!

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Facebook Phone? Who cares!

TechCrunch started a firestorm when they said Facebook was working on a "Facebook phone", resulting in denials by Facebook, and finally TechCrunch called Facebook and their PR outright liars. Everyone was in a tizzy that Facebook was purportedly building a phone based on Google's Android operating system. Even my boss, Rich Tehrani is excited about the potential.

I say "so what?" and "who cares?" Look, I like Facebook and I use it all the time, but there already exists Facebook apps for the iPhone, Android devices, and other mobile platforms. So why the need for Facebook to build their own Android-based mobile phone?

Dan Frommer over at Business Insider disagrees. He writes "Facebook already has over 150 million mobile users and is likely the most popular iPhone app of all time. But if Facebook is going to have as much impact on the mobile world as it has on the web, it needs to become a platform, and not just a service. And that's precisely why Facebook is working on its own mobile phone software."

I still don't get it. First off, Facebook already is a platform. You can develop apps for it, which is the very definition of a platform. But perhaps I'm playing a bit of word semantics. So let's read further into his article. He then writes, "Facebook wants to be built into the operating system, to make your contact list better, and to make boring features more social".  This basically lines up with what TechCrunch wrote when they said, "Specifically, Facebook wants to integrate deeply into the contacts list and other core functions of the phone. It can only do that if it controls the operating system."

Ok, so both are essentially saying that Facebook wants tighter integration with your contact address book. Well whoopdeedoo. You think users of Facebook are going to trade in their iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile so they have a more integrated Facebook address book? I'm not buying it.

The iPhone Facebook app already syncs your contacts with Facebook. In fact, it even pulls your Facebook friends' pictures into your contacts. Although it doesn't pull email addresses, mobile numbers, or birthdays. I believe it's against Facebook's API rules. But Facebook owns the API, so surely they can give themselves an exception. I doubt Apple blocks the ability to sync this data, since there is an app on the iPhone, called "MyPhone+" that allows the synching of contact info from Facebook to your phone, including pictures, birthdays, etc. Once again, these negates the need for a Facebook phone.

Next, Business Insider's Dan Frommer argues, "Facebook couldn't have a "FarmVille"-like success in today's current phone ecosystem.  Because Facebook doesn't control the mobile platform -- Apple, Google, RIM, etc. do -- it can't the basis for huge, money-printing social apps like it does on the web. Facebook doesn't want people playing "We Farm" on their iPhones and using iTunes for payments: It wants to be powering payments, app distribution, promotion, advertising, etc., the way it does on the web. That is where the power is."

Uh, there are already apps for the iPhone that let you pay within the app. There is no need to launch iTunes to make a purchase. So the argument of some paid ecosystem doesn't hold up. Facebook could allow payments within their app today if they wanted. Apps can access the web after all.

Next, the article says, "Apple and Google won't let Facebook into the guts of their operating system, so if Facebook is going to show consumers what a "social" phone REALLY looks like, it needs to build its own. And since Facebook isn't really partners with Google or Apple, it can risk pissing them off."

Oh really? Putting aside Apple, for the moment - where is the evidence Google isn't letting Facebook into their Android operating system?
The open source Android operating system is known for it's "openness". It's a major factor why Android-based phones have captured so much market share so quickly. Seems to me Dan is just speculating here and using Apple's notorious closed nature to also assail Google, which is known for having an open mobile platform. By doing so, I have a hard time buying his argument.

I'll tell you where a Facebook phone "might" make sense and it won't make the carriers very happy. Imagine if Facebook decided to offer VoIP functionality within their "Facebook phone". With over 500 million "active" Facebook users, that dwarf's Skype's 42.2 million average daily "active" users. Imagine being able to see your friend's presence info and then chat, voice, or even video call them over 3G data or a WiFi connection. You wouldn't even need PSTN numbers. Facebook would act at the largest ENUM registry in the world mapping Facebook names to other Facebook names, as well as PSTN numbers. Facebook would instantly own one of the largest phone networks in the world if they had this capability.

Of course, in order for this to work, Facebook would have to offer a new privacy setting - "friends" and "superfriends" (your 'real' friends and family). I get friend requests from people in my industry or fans of my blog and I accept them, but I wouldn't necessarily want them to be able to call my Facebook phone.

Perhaps this explains Google Voice, which offers one number and one voicemail, as well as Google's third attempt at a social network (Google Me) to take on Faceook. Combine Google Voice, Google Android, and Google Me and Google has one powerful communications cocktail - not to mention the ability to track your searches and geolocation to offer "relevant" personalized news and information. This could perhaps be yet another reason by Facebook to preempt Google's foray into becoming a "one-stop shop" that includes Facebook's "bread and butter" social networking features. Hmm. Maybe I should care about a Facebook Phone (Fone?) in order to stop the Google juggernaut?

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