Why would Facebook design a phone?

Separating Fact from Rumor

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Education Nation summit on Sept. 27, 2010.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Education Nation summit on Sept. 27, 2010.
AP Photo/Richard Drew

In the days following Michael Arrington's Facebook phone rumor at TechCrunch, there was a lot of fact-checking and follow-up reporting from experienced tech industry reporters. CNET Editor-in-chief Scott Ard speculated that the rumor might indicate only the earliest of planning stages. Ard explained that in the months prior to the rumor, Facebook was just starting to explore the concept with manufacturers and carriers. Ard also reminded readers of other Facebook rumors that never came true, like the 2008 rumor that the site was building a music service feature [source: Ard].

Three days into the rumor, Bloomberg reported more details. Bloomberg cited London-based INQ Mobile Ltd. as the target hardware manufacturer and AT&T as a possible U.S. service carrier for a Facebook phone. It also stated that the initial market for the phone would be Europe in March or April 2011 with the United States following in July or August. While Bloomberg's Facebook sources had nothing to say about specific models, they did confirm that the phones would run on the Android open source mobile platform [source: Kharif, Womack, Bensinger].

Arrington may have been accused of starting the rumor, but he followed up on it. Arrington, along with TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid, accepted an invitation to sit down with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and "clear the air." In the interview, Zuckerberg explained Facebook's plans and goals and clarified the facts [source: Arrington].

As of this article, written about two weeks later, here's the summary of what we know about the "Facebook phone" plan, mostly thanks to the Zuckerberg interview:

  • Facebook is building a platform based on the Android mobile operating system.
  • Facebook has a horizontal strategy of building a social layer that every application can use, extending across the Web, mobile phones and other devices.
  • Facebook is emphasizing HTML5 as a way to develop across platforms.
  • The only confirmed relationship between Facebook and INQ Mobile is one of aiding the handset manufacturer with Facebook integration on its devices, which INQ advertises as social networking phones.
  • The Facebook staff confirmed to be working on the project are Erick Tseng, former lead product manager for Android at Google, Matthew Papakipos, former director on the Chrome OS project at Google, and established Facebook developer Joe Hewitt.

If Facebook built a phone, how well would it do in the marketplace? Read on to see whether a platform featuring Facebook could be the next big thing for mobile phones.