But is it really a wise investment for the social networking giant?
Apparently the Taiwanese mobile maker was gearing up for production for the end of this year, but delayed the Facebook phone so it could concentrate on other projects. So it’s clearly not all that big a priority. But why bother in the first place?
Facebook courting mobile
Facebook obviously needs to make serious inroads into mobile. It’s not making any money from its mobile versions as yet, and seeing as half its 900 million members access the social network on their phones, that’s quite a large slice of money pie Zuckerberg and co. are missing out on.
The answer? Get HTC to produce an Android-powered mobile with Facebook baked in. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social.”
It has previous with HTC as well; the Taiwanese company released the ChaCha and Salsa, two phones with a built-in Facebook button. While a nice touch, the inclusion of a button didn’t exactly make either device ‘deeply social.’ Now Facebook is looking to right that.
Another new OS?
If the rumour is correct, and Facebook is going to make its own skin to put over Android, then I think it’s a bad move. With Android as fragmented as it is, does anyone need to learn what’s effectively a new OS? It may be basically the same as Android, but those non-techy types big companies often forget about don’t want to be faced with yet another UI to learn. And I’m not alone in thinking the actual web interface for Facebook is pretty terrible, so what’s a shrunken-down mobile version going to look like?
Ah, you might say, but the Amazon Kindle Fire has a skinned version of Android. And that sold quite nicely. Yes, but that had a unique selling point – an Android tablet from a big name at an affordable price. (At least it was unique until the Nexus 7 came along, anyway.) And a phone is a much bigger deal than a tablet – it’s always with us, we use it for a lot more… basically it’s a much more personal device. You’ll be locked in to the same phone for a year at least, on most deals. Maybe even two. So convincing someone to change their phone for one with a whole new UI just to make one function a bit more usable is no easy task.
Facebook failing on mobile
But Facebook needs to do something. The iPhone and Android apps are pretty bad, let’s be honest. A new version of the iPhone one is coming later this year, according to rumours, and it should be faster. The Android one was updated recently, fixing some bugs and letting you use the front camera for snapping self-portraits. But it still has a long way to go. Zuckerberg has said the biggest challenge facing the company is “the shift to mobile”, so clearly he recognises something has to be done. Enlisting HTC to make a phone with the social network baked in is quite a drastic move.
Look at the privacy implications. Whenever Facebook wants to change its settings, it just does so, and the 900 million of us have to lump it, or go looking for a guide on how to set them back. One thing’s for sure: once Facebook is baked in, it won’t be easy to log out from.
And what are the implications for a phone that’s deeply social? I find it a bit intrusive that the social network already shares with my friends everything I read and listen to. Don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook, it’s just I like being able to shut it off.
The apps workout
Usability has never been Facebook’s strong point, and the idea of being trapped in a whole interface designed around it fills me with dread. Instead of trying to bake in the social networking experience, why not just work on making the apps better? If it can’t do that, what chance does it have of improving on Android?