The internet is currently abuzz with the news that the “Facebook Phone” is, indeed, actually going to exist, in partnership with HTC and Android. This unholy alliance is likely to do Facebook a lot of good. A huge number of its users now operate in an exclusively mobile realm, and if it wants to capture and keep more of that market, the best thing it can do is integrate itself fully with the necessary technology. With smartphones selling at an exponential rate, Facebook has done well to step up to the plate, but it may well be too little too late. Furthermore, there are a few implications of this move which the average consumer may not be happy about.
Facebook’s decision to partner with Android in their mobile venture will definitely serve the company well. Android presently dominates in the world’s largest emerging markets, where mobile use generally precedes computer use. In the absence of the Windows phone’s ability to do anything really interesting in these markets and Apple’s similarly closed-shop nature, Android has been able to surge ahead, with India in particular buying them up in droves. HTC is also likely to benefit from the move as it has struggled to compete with the Samsung Galaxy S series (latest version s7 details here: http://galaxysseven.com/ ), which currently bestrides the smartphone market like a colossus. In addition, the general versatility and adaptability of these smartphones means that potentially any Android handset will be capable of transforming into a Facebook phone as required.
However, Facebook’s success in the phone market will rest on its ability to integrate. This may be much easier in the west, where Facebook is utterly ubiquitous as a social networking tool and will be able to encourage mobile users to convert easily. However, in developing markets, open-sourced, mobile-native apps are by far more commonplace. In this kind of environment, a Facebook phone may be met with a resounding “Who?” by unimpressed users relying on platforms like WhatsApp for their communication needs. Facebook will need to become much, much more mobile-focused to impress this market, and will need to start making deals with mobile networks left right and centre to get the kind of support it needs to survive. The most recent update to the Facebook newsfeed does however seem to presage this direction, as it appears to be specifically designed to be used on mobile devices. Development is also a key area of contention. As of writing, we do not know whether or not Facebook will provide its own backend for app developers, or whether it will continue to rely on Google for this services.
What does seem to be absolutely clear, however, is that Facebook cannot really afford to bind itself to one handset manufacturer and one carrier. Although this may explain why they have not attempted to make the jump earlier: The behind the scenes work needed to coordinate the kind of integrated, multiple partner deal would understandably be a huge effort, and leaks of any substance could be potentially disastrous, which might explain the relative quiet from all companies concerned on the matter.
For the end user, a Facebook phone has a number of implications, not all of them positive. By integrating itself so fully into our mobile experience, Facebook will make itself much more easy to access (potentially making social contact a more fluid and collaborative experience). However, the trade off will be that Facebook dominates almost every aspect of socialisation and consumerism, which may make you especially uncomfortable if Google’s data retention habit has already raised your eyebrows. These questions, however, will only become relevant if Facebook a) gets around to releasing their new product in the near future, and b) it doesn’t struggle to stay above water in the already cutthroat Android phone market.