Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

Does Anyone Actually Want a “Facebook Phone”?

Something Facebook mobile this way comes.

And depending on what you read, it’s a little different here and there. A proper Facebook phone. Or not a Facebook phone, but a very Facebook-y version of a phone. Whatever it is, we’re in agreement that it involves Facebook and a phone.

But let’s rewind for a second: Who among us would actually want to buy a Facebook phone, much less use it as a primary device?

Yes, more than half a billion people use Facebook on their phones daily. And yes! Facebook is the most downloaded app across modern-day smartphones! But Facebook has slowly made its endgame here very clear: The company wants you to use all its services — namely texting, voice calling and emailing — as your primary mode of communication over your existing SMS, email and voice services.

There’s probably a hardcore set of Facebook lovers who do indeed use, or would desire to use, all of Facebook’s mobile services to contact others. But that group has to be incredibly small. And some of Facebook’s more interesting mobile features, like voice calling, have only been out for a handful of months, and only in certain countries.

I’d argue that the majority of the world’s mobile-loving population isn’t built the way Facebook wants it to be.

I may use SMS texts to contact, say, my friend who hates using Facebook and doesn’t want an account. And then perhaps I’ll switch to good old-fashioned telephone calls to check in with my folks, who aren’t as tech savvy as some (Dad doesn’t own a smartphone). Then I’ll switch to WhatsApp to send a message to a techie friend, or perhaps use that app to contact another friend outside the U.S. (where it’s massively popular). Finally, I’ll jump on Snapchat to snap a creepshot of a friend and send it to someone else.

The point is this: In the tech world, context is king. On some level, we as people don’t want to funnel all of our communication through one central service. We like different apps for different things — even if it makes more sense to use one central service. It’s why Poke, Facebook’s Snapchat clone, failed miserably. It’s why Google’s plan to unify all of its services using Google Plus isn’t working at all. And it’s why, despite Facebook’s massive marketing muscle and install base, these apps continue to flourish.

Now, I totally get why Facebook wants to make a phone happen. More usage of Facebook on mobile means more potential ad products viewed and used, which means more revenue. As we’ve reported in the past, the company has experimented with multiple ways of making this happen, from a physical device to derivations of the Android operating system.

And I get why a company like HTC is willing to experiment with a Facebook-centric device. The company is in dire straits, plunging in market value over the past year. It needs a pitch to consumers that yes, it too can produce awesome phones.

What I don’t get is why regular folks — who can already use Facebook on their phone — would ever want to buy it.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik