Facebook's Secret Phone Project: Here's What You Missed Over The Weekend

Facebook phone

Photo: Sean Percival

The biggest story you missed this weekend: That Facebook is working on mobile phone software that could give it much more control over phones than its apps afford today.Sure, Facebook already has over 150 million mobile users and is likely the most popular iPhone app of all time. But Facebook, like other Silicon Valley giants, sees mobile as a massive potential growth area. And it wants to be in control of its destiny on mobile; not under some other company’s control.

So if Facebook is going to have as much impact on the mobile world as it has on the web, it needs to become a platform, and not just a service. It needs to be at the core of the “social” phone experience, and not just an add-on. And that’s precisely why Facebook is working on its own mobile phone software.

Here’s what you missed this weekend:

  • Michael Arrington of TechCrunch reported that Facebook is “secretly building a phone.” He clarifies, “Or rather, they’re building the software for the phone and working with a third party to actually build the hardware.” He reported that two high-level Facebook employees, Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos, are working on the secret project.
  • I posted this analysis of why Facebook is working on a secret phone project: Because it needs to be a platform, not just a service or app. Here, I explain that I heard similar rumours on my recent trip to Silicon Valley. And I list several factors as to why Facebook would be working on such an ambitious project — the biggest of which is that Facebook deeply desires to be at the centre of your mobile experience, and to have other services built on top of it, the way it has on the web. If you read only one post about Facebook’s phone, this should be it.
  • I exclusively reported that Facebook is using Google Android as the basis for its mobile project, based on a conversation I had with a plugged-in Silicon Valley source. This is supported with lots of tweets from Facebook’s Joe Hewitt criticising Android’s developer tools, which I think is a giveaway that he’s deep in the weeds with Android.
  • I reminded everyone that Facebook’s new mobile boss, Erick Tseng, was just stolen from Google’s Android team, where he was a senior product manager. Not only is he intimately familiar with Android, but he could have gone anywhere, including a startup. His move to Facebook was calculated, and I think that’s because he knows how big the opportunity is for Facebook to get deeper into mobile.
  • I found this quote from Facebook’s Erick Tseng, which he provided my colleague Nicholas Carlson in July, right after he was hired. “We’re far far away from having a truly socially-informed mobile experience. Look for that in 12 to 16 months.” In other words, Facebook’s big mobile product should launch in summer or fall of 2011.
  • Facebook put out a statement to Mashable, saying, “The story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone.” I explained that this is a classic non-denial denial, and that of course Facebook is not building a phone. Note that Facebook does not deny that it is building a custom version of Android; just that it is not “building a phone.” Indeed, Facebook’s statement actually brags about its projects to move deeper into the phone OS, as if it’s admitting that the original story is correct.
  • I tweeted, “Remember when Google wasn’t building its own phone, either? Right.” TechCrunch’s MG Siegler later wrote a post on the same topic, “Facebook Is Not Working On A Phone Just Like Google Was Not Working On A¬†Phone.”
  • MySpace employee Sean Percival posted this funny image, “First Photo of the Facebook Phone.” As you can see, it tweaks Facebook for its recurring privacy issues. Could end up being a concern, but I think Facebook is a little more careful about that stuff now.

So that’s what you missed. We’ll obviously be following this closely. What do you think?

Again, if you really want to understand why Facebook would bother with this, don’t miss this analysis piece: “Here’s Why Facebook Is Secretly Building A Phone: It Needs To Be A Platform, Not Just A Service.

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