Facebook is planning on releasing its own smartphone by next year, according to a report by the New York Times.
The paper claims that several employees of the world’s largest social network have said that Facebook has hired up to half a dozen hardware and software engineers who previously worked for Apple on the iPhone and iPad. There’s no word on what form the phone or its software will take yet, be it a reworking of an existing platform or something new entirely, but the recently floated company certainly has a lot of money to spend right now.
Generating revenue from mobile could be the new direction for Facebook as the company will be searching for new ways of earning cash to please its new investors. In amongst the paperwork surrounding the social networking giant’s stock market launch was the frank admission that it has no idea of how to make money from mobile, despite the enormous amount of subscribers who use its phone-based services.
The social network is certainly not unfamiliar with taking its platform beyond being a mere app on someone else’s homescreen having teamed-up with HTC to create the Cha Cha last year. HTC’s handset featured a dedicated Facebook button on the front of the device but, despite the promised made in the device’s marketing campaign, that was pretty much where the integration ended. In reality, the Facebook button did nothing more than pressing the app icon in the phone’s menu would.
Possibly in regard to this, tech site Engadget has reported that a Facebook employee said: “Mark (Zuckerberg) is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms”.
However, integration with other software platforms has gone better for Zuckerberg’s company elsewhere. Following a $240m investment in 2007 Microsoft has been very keen to work closely with Facebook and the latest version of Windows Phone sees almost seamless co-ordination between the OS and social network’s services. Contacts, pictures and information are pulled through from Facebook to the phone’s user interface after signing in just once.
One thing that Facebook may also have on its mind is the fact that the company that owns the world’s most popular mobile platform, Android, also runs a social network, Google+. Although a purely speculative suggestion, were Google to further integrate its own social network into Android then Facebook would be wise to have a back-up plan or risk being pushed aside.
What will be interesting to see is what features Facebook would include in a phone of its own that aren’t available with any other smartphone. Although there is the possibility that Google could eventually tailor Android towards Google+, so far no mobile platform has alienated any of the big social networks for the fear of losing that service’s users and Facebook, along with Twitter, Google+ and the rest, can be used on any platform.
Facebook’s mobile spectrum now includes a camera along with the dedicated messenger service and main app itself and integration with the social network is a common feature in countless other apps. Presumably, a Facebook phone would feature an OS built around the social network’s interface and possibly mimicking Windows Phone’s knack of pulling all your contacts and photos right into the operating system but it could struggle to offer anything that would attract users from other platforms.
However, Facebook’s foray into the mobile sphere continues, with rumours also abounding that Zuckerberg has his eye on buying-up Opera, one of the world’s most popular mobile web browsers. There was also the $1b acquisition of Instagram, although Facebook has made the unusual move of including many of the photo-sharing service’s features in its new camera app. Nevertheless, many of those new investors must be well aware that the world’s largest social network makes most of its money from web adds which don’t run on phones and cashing in on its enormous mobile presence must surely be priority for the firm.