Facebook yesterday sent members of the press invitations to a mysterious event that will take place at the company’s headquarters on April 4. The cryptic invitation simply said “Come see our new home on Android,” reigniting rumors that the social media giant will be unveiling a brand new smartphone. The device has been rumored for a few years now, but very little has been divulged by Mark Zuckerberg and Co. regarding any sort of interest in moving into producing mobile devices or the development of a smartphone. With that said, we can take some educated guesses as to what a Facebook phone may look like, who will manufacture the device, and more. Here’s what you need to know about the rumored Facebook phone.
1. The Phone May Be Produced by HTC
HTC, the company behind the critically-acclaimed HTC One, may be manufacturing the still-unconfirmed Facebook phone. HTC may have well-designed and aesthetically pleasing devices, but usually they don’t sell well. A partnership with Facebook could help the company boost its bottom line. HTC has actually worked with Facebook before. At the 2011 Mobile World Conference, HTC unveiled the ChaCha (later changed to the HTC Status), which featured extremely tight integration with Facebook and a physical button dedicated to Facebook, but more on that later.
2. It’s Unclear What Facebook Means by a “New Home On Android”
Facebook’s word choice in its invite is a little confusing; the company already has a home on Android, in the form of a dedicated Facebook app available for almost all Android users. Facebook’s April 4th event will reportedly unveil a Facebook-centric mobile operating system, built off of Google’s Android mobile OS. It’s like Facebook is moving up from a tiny apartment to a penthouse on Park Avenue — Facebook can essentially alter Android’s operating system as much (or as little) as they like, since Android is an open-source operating system. That means Facebook could add some features unique to the phone, like posting a status update from the lock screen or making it even easier to share photos and videos to Facebook.
3. Or, It Could Be An Updated App
Gizmodo writes that the “new home” Facebook is referencing may not mean an actual phone, but an updated app. Sticking with the analogy from before, it’d be like Facebook moving its current apartment to a large loft with some college buddies. Mashable also agrees that a Facebook phone may not make sense, writing that the timing to release a phone isn’t correct and the competition in the smartphone industry is increasing exponentially and the idea a brand new phone can just come in and take third place is almost unfathomable. The updated app, according to Gizmodo, could be that the new Facebook app dominates the “Home” screen on Android devices, allows easy access to check your news feed, message friends, and share content on Facebook.
4. Facebook Could Offer Free Calling to your Facebook Friends
Earlier this year, Facebook announced that they would be offering free voice over IP (VoIP) calling between Facebook friends. The feature was slowly unrolled to iOS and Android Facebook mobile app users, and is reportedly being tested in the UK right now. A free VoIP calling feature on a mobile device might upset some carriers, who use calling minutes as a method of determining contract plans, but would be a welcomed addition for many users who would be able to communicate with their Facebook friends for free.
5. Mark Zuckerberg Hasn’t Denied A Facebook OS
As Business Insider notes, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has shut down the idea of Facebook manufacturing a phone. However, the young CEO never denied that his company was working on an operating system. Zuckerberg said in an earnings call earlier this year:
…people keep on asking if we’re going to build a phone. And we’re not going to build a phone, right, because that’s – it’s not the right strategy for us to – I mean, to build one integrated system where, I mean, so let’s say we sold 10 million units, there’ll be 1% of users who cares for us, right?
Zuckerberg did mentioned Android before though, saying last September that “Android we can go deep on our own, just because there’s a lot of hooks in Android that you can use as a developer and we think we can do really interesting stuff around. So, that’s the strategy.”
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6. The HTC-Facebook Partnership could be like the Google Nexus Line
Since Facebook won’t be manufacturing a device, according to Zuckerberg’s comments, the concept that the company is developing its own OS makes sense, and emulates a strategy used by another tech giant: Google. Google released a number of Nexus devices, that were produced by various manufacturing companies, including LG and Samsung. Facebook could use a similar strategy, eventually entertaining offers from other producers like Samsung.
7. Facebook Has Been Emphasizing Mobile Growth
Since Facebook’s disastrous IPO, investors were worried about Facebook’s mobile growth. However, the company picked it up eventually, announcing that, for the first time, there were more mobile Facebook users than desktop users. Facebook VP of Partnerships, Dan Rose, spoke at the AllThingsD’s D: Dive Into Media, where he spoke about Facebook’s mobile strategy, saying, “So many things are unlocked on mobile. You don’t bring your computer to a restaurant or a party.” So, it seems like the Facebook exec’s are finally wising up to the idea that there is an untapped market available in the form of mobile devices.
8. It’ll Be Hard For a Facebook Break Into The Smartphone Market…
Let’s not kid around, with big players like Apple, Samsung, Google, HTC (with the HTC One), Microsoft, and even Blackberry, producing gorgeous and high-end mobile phones, it’ll be a difficult industry for Facebook to enter. Apple and Samsung are obviously the industry leaders, but even the competition for third-place is fierce. Mashable writes that it won’t just be difficult to beat Blackberry and Microsoft, but it’ll be hard to convince carriers to carry and promote the Facebook phone. Popular foreign smartphone makers like ZTE have a difficult time convincing carriers. With such barriers, the potential of launching a successful Facebook product grows slimmer and slimmer.
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9. That Being Said, Facebook has a Built-In User Base
But, Facebook has one thing that the other companies don’t: A built-in user base. There are more than a billion active monthly Facebook users, and Facebook mobile users check their accounts almost 14 times per day. With the right amount of promotion on Facebook, the company can increase the hype for the potential device among its users, which could help sales.
10. Just Don’t Make It Like The HTC ChaCha…Or The HTC Status…Or Whatever It’s Called
As we mentioned before, HTC and Facebook worked together to develop a phone before, initially called the HTC ChaChaCha but then they dropped the last “Cha” and then, finally, decided on the HTC Status.The device’s design — to put it kindly — was archaic. It looks like HTC attempted to make their own Blackberry Curve 3G, which is already not a good looking device. With a physical keyboard (remember this phone was made in 2011), an actual Facebook button, and little to no promotion from carriers or Facebook, the phone turned out to be a dud for both Facebook and HTC. Whatever they do, both companies need to make sure that they don’t replicate their past failures. Both HTC and Facebook could use a boost from a device that sells decently, with HTC looking to become a bigger player in the smartphone market and Facebook trying to convince investors that the company is fully dedicated to mobile growth (it wouldn’t hurt Facebook’s stock price if the device sold well, either).