UPDATED: When talking about social networks, you can’t get much larger than Facebook. With some 900 million users worldwide, Mark Zuckerberg has linked the world in a way no service has before it. Stretching into the mobile world has been one of Facebook’s latest endeavours, now offering a native application for each leading mobile OS, but the company have expressed an interested in pushing their presence in the mobile space even further, with the creation of an official Facebook phone in partnership with HTC.
Hasn’t there been a Facebook phone before?
This isn’t the first Facebook-centric phone we've seen. In the first half of last year, three devices arrived with the intention of better integrating Facebook into the smartphone experience.
First to the table was UK-based company InQ, who pushed out the INQ Cloud Touch; an Android smartphone with a heavily modified UI, designed to work around Facebook’s services with the main homescreens devoted to offering immediate access to status updates, events and so on. Despite a solid effort from the partnership, its impact on the market was relatively small.
HTC introduced HTC Salsa and the HTC Cha Cha. The latter of these two devices saw the greatest success, but both phones brought a unique new feature to the table; a dedicated Facebook hardware button, which allowed users to share content direct to Facebook from anywhere within the phone. The Cha Cha also saw strong promotion in the US as the HTC Status for AT&T.
Why does Facebook need a phone?
Despite offering a capable set off mobile applications, Zuckerberg himself admitted to Bloomberg that the transition in bringing the Facebook experience to the mobile platform is difficult as it differs so much from its desktop counterpart. In fact the iOS version has even been criticised for their sluggish navigation in the past.
Aside from reinforcing its presence in the mobile space with a dedicated device to push to social-networking addicts, the company intend to greater leverage the potential of mobile advertising space, in a concept not dramatically dissimilar to Apple iAds.
What will the features be?
Rumour has it that both former design and technical experts from both Palm and Apple have been brought in to work on some of Facebook’s existing mobile experiences and this same team have no doubt been entrusted with overseeing the creation of the Facebook phone on its way to market too.
As with the previous Facebook-centric handsets, the device in question is expected to run Android, predominantly over the likes of iOS or Windows Phone for its flexibility and allowances for deeper customisation which could be implemented by Facebook to differentiate the user experience.
The Taiwanese-based mobile manufacturer is one of the leading Android smartphone makers. The company have demonstrated a high level of control and quality when producing their own brew of Android, running its own UI, Sense over the top. Facebook would no doubt like to leverage the company’s talents in this department to better define the user experience. Add in the Facebook centric HTC Cha Cha and HTC Salsa and this sounds like a perfect example of building on an already successful relationship.
When will it launch?
Although talk of a Facebook phone has come and gone in the past, there’s a real possibility in this case with an original launch date scheduled for the end of 2012. That time frame has now been shifted back to the first half of 2013, giving HTC and Facebook more time to produce a better device.
UPDATE 27/7/12: Is the Facebook phone under development, according to Zuckerberg “it wouldn’t really make much sense”, which came out in part of a statement picked up by Mashable after Facebook's recent earnings call. The Facebook CEO is pushing the notion that the concept wouldn't offer any significant benefits to the company, with a range of mobile apps already out there.
Having said that there are benefits which we've already touched on that could help the company should they decide to offer a mobile device. Alongside the brand association, aspects such as new advertising revenue could help the company. We'll keep our eyes peeled come mid-2013, when this mythical phone is expected to arrive and until then keep our ears to the ground on talk of such a device.