Photo: By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This weekend the NY Times cited sources that Facebook is out looking to staff up a hardware development team to build a smartphone. So let’s get this straight: in 2010, two years ago, and 2 iPhones ago, Facebook assembled a team tasked with creating the Facebook phone, then the project died when they realised this was a difficult undertaking. Then last year Facebook was rumoured to have commissioned HTC to create a custom Android phone with some special FB software, which apparently will have a non-sucky Facebook mobile experience. Uhm, how’s that working out so far? And now in 2012 they’re back to home-growing an entirely new (non-Android) smartphone platform.
Let’s accept the reality of Facebook’s progress in mobile: they spent the past year creating the Camera photo app, even though it’s essentially a duplicate of Instagram. 1 entire year. If it took FB that long to effectively copy an app, imagine how much agony FB will go through creating an entire smartphone hardware platform, complete with new operating system, browser (assimilating Opera would not be easy), and software delivery framework aka “app store”.
Are people really serious in thinking that Facebook hiring a few Apple engineers is going to enable the company to build its own smartphone? This theory is an absolute joke. Competing in what has become the world’s most competitive consumer market (mobile) would require a massive team of brilliant visionaries and hundreds of experienced systems engineers – operating as a cohesive unit. And here is where it gets really funny – the NY Times article cites evidence that Facebook is going to assemble this team without posting job descriptions on the company’s site. What?
Some people out there have suggested that Facebook’s Open Compute data centre project is proof that they “get” hardware and could easily produce a consumer phone. Wrong. This could not be further from a poor analogy.
Just look at Google, which designs custom proprietary servers for its data centres (and is in fact the most successful server manufacturer in the world). Google’s datacenter solutions are custom across the hardware and software stack, and they even push chipset vendors to build chips with custom I/O to best fit their proprietary boxes.
But all this expertise that Google’s acquired in the data centre simply doesn’t translate to consumer electronics. Why? Because consumer markets require a totally different DNA. Google TV’s failures and the storied missteps around Google-branded Android smartphones prove this. So does the massive $12B hardware bet on Motorola Mobility.
Also, if Facebook really does create a smartphone platform, Apple will never integrate FB into iOS, like it’s done with Twitter. Why risk getting completely locked out of iOS by creating a smartphone platform that will almost certainly go nowhere for years? You’d think that Facebook would just focus on places it’s dominant, like in making identity portable and becoming the first true “social operating system” in web history, then monetizing this. E.g, people allude to the opportunity for Facebook to build an off-property ad network to allow 3rd party cites to tap into FB’s rich data-set to serve more targeted ads.
I’m sure there are a hundred other reasons why Facebook is being blown away in mobile, even though they are a company of brilliant product people and the finest engineers. And this isn’t just because mobile is hard, it’s because mobile isdifferent. And guess what? Hardware DNA is even more different, and it sounds like Facebook may take a while to find this out…
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