Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

The Facebook Phone: Why Would You Want One?

This is the fifth in a series of posts this week about the Facebook phone.

The loudest responses to our recent series on Facebook’s work on a social mobile operating system code-named “Buffy” have not been “Ooh, I want one!”

Instead, they’ve been more along the lines of: “Why would I let creepy Facebook into my pocket!?”

While blog comments and tweets are not necessarily a representative survey, they do come from a significant and vocal portion of the population that doesn’t seem inclined to trust the Facebook brand as their cellular carrier, too.

While there are Apple fanboys and Google loyalists aplenty, Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg seem to rate high on the hater quotient.

That doesn’t deny the fact that 800 million people find enough value in Facebook to log in to it at least once a month, increasingly from their phones.

And, arguably, any service that is so highly personal and insanely dominant would probably generate similar privacy concerns.

But, if we can look past the hate, would a phone that is designed by Facebook, rather than the usual mobile suspects, be compelling to consumers?

After all, no one ever clamored for a Yahoo or Myspace phone, and even Google used a different brand name — Android — for its offering.

That said, there are actually a lot of features important to smartphone users that Facebook might be particularly well-suited to offer, such as app discovery and better handling of contacts.

Here are some examples:

Contacts and presence: Phones today can be remarkably dumb about helping us get in touch with our own contacts. Facebook has a lot of insight into the best way to reach a person at any time — whether through a text, message, push notification, or voice or video call on desktop or mobile.

Clicking on a button to reach an already established Facebook friend wherever they are would be a lot more convenient than all the time we spend listening to phones ring, calling alternate numbers, leaving voicemails and the like. Rather than collecting and updating people’s contact information, we can rely on our friends to take care of that themselves.

Escaping the confines of the app: Facebook features such as events, messaging and places are currently crammed into one mobile app, but they could make more sense spread out to the rest of the operating system, into places like the calendar, inbox and maps. (You can already see this with the dedicated Facebook Messenger app for iPhone and Android, which, in my experience, is faster and more reliable than Facebook’s main apps.)

Lots of phone makers have messed around with Facebook integration, but it seems the consensus is that the Window Phone has done it best to date, with core Facebook features such as photo tagging, notifications, group messaging and status filters. Microsoft has built a demo site of what this looks like; you can see it if you install their Facebook app.

Social app discovery: Facebook’s app platform, with its notifications and real-time “ticker” activity display, could greatly improve app discovery. One of the biggest problems for both users and developers is that it’s too hard to find interesting new mobile apps. Knowing what apps your friends are using would be much more dynamic and personal than algorithmic and editorial lists of apps.

HTML5: The Facebook phone cocreated with HTC, as we’ve described it, wouldn’t come out for more than a year. But that long lag time could actually be a boon in one respect, because it will give more time for HTML5 to mature to support rich apps. Facebook’s phone could be a showcase for these Web apps, which would ideally be more flexible and accessible than platform-specific ones.

Frictionless sharing: Facebook’s current plan to make sharing more automatic doesn’t sit well with everyone. That said, it would work especially well on a phone for users who want to keep a record of their own lives. Your phone has tremendous insight into what you’re doing, who you’re with and where you are.

What do you think? Would you buy a Facebook phone? And what could Facebook offer in mobile form that would interest you?

Let us know in the comments. And here’s a poll you can take, too:

Related Posts on the Facebook Phone:

  1. It’s Finally Real and Its Name Is Buffy
  2. Forking Android Offers Both Promise and Pitfalls
  3. The “Slayer” That Wasn’t
  4. If It Comes, Will It Already Be Too Late?
  5. The Facebook Phone: Why Would You Want One?

Full Facebook Phone Coverage »

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus