The Facebook Phone: If It Comes, Will It Already Be Too Late?
Time stands still for no man, even if that man is billionaire social networking legend Mark Zuckerberg.
And that’s one of the biggest challenges facing Facebook in its effort to build Buffy, a planned phone being designed by the social network and manufactured by Taiwan’s HTC.
The device, though arguably years in the making, is still a long way from hitting the market, possibly as many as 18 months away.
By that point, Apple will have likely introduced an iPhone 5 and Google Android — which uses desserts in alphabetical order (now Ice Cream Sandwich) — will be up to Jelly Bean at least, if not Karmel Korn or some other code name to make your cellular dentist cringe.
In addition, one of the key demographics for a Facebook phone would appear to be that group of people who never owned a smartphone. And a longer wait means that by the time Buffy might hit the market, that pool will be significantly smaller.
That said, Facebook is still the reigning king of the Internet in social communications, where more people are connected to their friends, and where more of their photos live.
What makes the prospect of a Facebook-centric phone appealing is the fact that, for at least some people, it is where they already spend a lot of their time on the desktop or laptop computer.
Thus, a leap to the phone — where increasing numbers of the social networking site’s users are moving — and beyond is a natural one.
The company clearly has a giant potential market, with 800 million users.
The key — and a key unknown at this point — is just what this phone would do, as compared to other phones on the market. As many have noted, Microsoft’s Windows Phone already has some pretty tight Facebook integration, while Apple’s iOS and Android itself offer all the basic Facebook programs.
Ideally, Facebook would be able to move from the supporting role it plays today in mobile to a more central one akin to its spot on the desktop, where it can truly claim to be one of the key platforms.
In that context, Facebook is more than a place to share photos or check a friend’s status; it is a place to buy things, sell things, play games and more, all using its proprietary credit system.
Mobile also offers opportunities that are either smaller or not present at all on PCs, such as the ability to connect with friends directly via voice, text and video, without having to know where (or on what device) their friends are. It could directly integrate video chat, perhaps extending its existing relationship with Skype.
What is entirely clear is that Facebook had better get this phone out as quickly as it can.
“Smartphones are likely to double to 50 percent of overall global units over the next three years,” said Brian Blair, an analyst with Wedge Partners. “And if they want to capitalize on that growth opportunity, they need to get something in the market.”