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Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves

How could Facebook convince people to drop their current phones for a Facebook-branded device? I have five suggestions.

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Facebook is once again summoning, er, inviting the media for a big announcement on Thursday. This is getting to be a regular thing, as Facebook seems to be taking a page from Apple in terms of revving up the hype machine before "major" announcements. What is it this time? We've been hearing buzz around a Facebook phone announcement for some time, but, based on what we've been hearing and seeing for the last day or so, it seems that it will be an Android-based phone on which Facebook is the star. What will it take for Facebook to make users switch? A lot.

We're hearing that the Facebook-focused version of Android will be demonstrated on an HTC device on Thursday at Facebook HQ. But I wonder if now is the right time for Facebook to be making this particular mobile move. While the company has taken some steps in the right mobile direction, too many of its features are not yet ready for mobile prime time (or ready for mobile at all, with Facebook Graph Search being a case in point). And Facebook is still flailing away with the user interface of the social network in general as it tries to develop ways to commercialize its service without ticking off users (at least, not too badly).

Here are five things I think Facebook has to do to earn the coveted space on users' smartphone home screens. (Warning: The last is a modest proposal of sorts.)

[ Would an HTC Facebook phone be fixable? See HTC One 'Impossible To Repair' Says iFixit. ]

1. Improve Its Messaging Service

When I think about my iPhone, and the functions I access most from the home screen, email is by far No. 1. Maybe Facebook will provide some kind of conduit for third-party email systems, and, being based on Android, it doesn't seem crazy to believe that Gmail could be integrated somehow. But I'm guessing that Facebook will want to push users to its own messaging system. The thing is, that system is OK for sending a private message here and there, but it's not easy to find messages once you have sent them, or to associate messages other than by individual user. I realize that a social network is intended in many ways to replace the old email paradigm -- and I just saw a report from the Boston Globe looking at how email volume is declining with the increasing use of social networks, text messaging and the like -- but the fact remains that email still has its place.

2. Provide Calendar Integration

After email, the function I access most on my smartphone is the calendar. And that calendar is useful to me because it pulls from all of the various calendars I use. If Facebook wants to be the first thing I see when I unlock my device, it had better not make me miss that conference call -- or dentist appointment -- because I can't see all of my calendars in one place. And, right now, Facebook's calendaring options just don't cut it on their own.

3. Stop Deciding What Users Want To See

I recently had a conversation with a person who couldn't figure out why she wasn't seeing Facebook posts from all of the people she had friended on Facebook. Of course, EdgeRank, Facebook's mysterious algorithm for determining who sees what, is at work here. There are ways to set up your account to see more rather than less, but Facebook is still doing much of the deciding (including, infuriatingly, whether I see Most Recent posts or Top Stories, no matter how many times I switch back). I get that Facebook is setting itself up more and more to provide a platform on which businesses can meaningfully market and sell -- which requires that they know who they are marketing and selling to so that they can focus that activity -- but doing so at the cost of user productivity and satisfaction is short-sighted.

4. Enough With The Promoted Posts

Again, I know Facebook has to figure out ways to make money. But the promoted posts are starting to get ridiculous. Not so long ago, promoted posts appeared infrequently enough in my Newsfeed that I would stop and think, "Did I like that page?" Now it seems like every other post is a promoted post. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's getting less and less valuable -- or even enjoyable -- to check Facebook. There are too many other places where users can get what they get from Facebook. (And, if my two teenage daughters and their friends can be considered a focus group for their generation, Facebook is totally lame because it has gotten so commercialized.) On mobile, especially, too many promoted posts get in the way of a meaningful experience.

5. Crush. Kill. Destroy.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that Facebook would have to design some kind of malware that would render iPhones, BlackBerrys and other Android devices useless before the company could pry users' beloved devices/OSes from their hands. Or, Facebook could give the phones away for free, which might accomplish the same thing in the end. I think Facebook would have to go that far for a "Facebook phone" to make a big dent in today's well-entrenched mobile device market.

Does a Facebook-focused mobile device sound enticing to you at all? What would such a phone have to do to get you to switch from what you are already using? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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User Rank: Strategist
4/3/2013 | 5:06:50 PM
re: Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves
The problem with Facebook is that the user HAS NO PRIVACY. Employers, businesses, individuals have sued people for placing up any opionion to their friends or family that might be damaging to a business. So, if an auto mechanic shop is not fixing problems that I payed for, and are not taliing charge of warranty....I cannot tell my friends, and family?
Schools, Government, and everyone else seems to be able to get inot these accounts. Please, I do not need them in my phone as well! My phone already tracks me....unless I am very careful. If someone wants to pay me for providing my information on where I shop, where I go, then they can send me a check in the mail for my services, or ... my phone is off until I need it.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 4:55:14 PM
re: Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves
I traded in my android phone (Galaxy III). Android is too fragmented, quirky, unstable, lagged, crashed, unreliable etc, etc. Not to mention that the build quality of the Galaxy is very cheap.
I now use the iphone5 and it is near perfection. It is built with very high end materials and build quality. It is fast, fluid, powerful and light. It is so reliable and works every time. Most of my office traded android for apple as well as the nokia windows 8 phone, another very capable, stable and powerful platform.
Why any would want or switch to a Facebook phone defies reason. Windows 8 and IOS will dominate this arena at the expense of android and subpar products from the likes of Facebbok
Bob Gill
Bob Gill,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 4:51:27 PM
re: Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves
I've never understood the idea of dumping a phone to go to another in less than 2 years, unless your current phone is faulty. Many of my friends have iPhones, but I can't think of a single one that dumped their current iPhone to get a new version before their 2 year contract was up.

With the T-Mobile change and possibly others starting to following the rest-of-world model in the USA, where people pay full price for their phones, I'd expect to see people holding on longer than 3 years.
User Rank: Strategist
4/3/2013 | 2:03:02 PM
re: Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves
Aside from the fact that I personally think Facebook is for morons, What is the value added for the customer? What can Facebook possibly offer that isn't already offered by Google or Apple?

Now FB can argue, "We'll do the same thing, only better!" But in what areas, exactly, are Google and Apple under serving the market? The people you want to do better than, have to be doing a not very good job before you can improve on their performance enough to steal customers from them. Granted both "G" and "A" make some incredibly boneheaded moves from time to time, but do those moves TRULY rise to the level to justify customer flight? I don't think so.
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 2:37:15 AM
re: Facebook Phone: 5 Must-Haves
I honestly think this is something that the rest of the world can do without. A Facebook phone, really? As it is, they seem to have gotten the latest version of their Android app really wrong - maybe it's a ploy to make sure that the Facebook addicts out there will be moving to their shiny new device if/when it hits the street.

And given what Apple's done in the past with keeping tabs on users via their GPS readings, I have to wonder if Facebook is going to try to give users the option to let them check in and get points (or whatever that doesn't mean much in the real world) while feeding the big blue F with even more data to analyze and, in turn, feed their advertisers. I can see localized ads being served... like an ad for a burger joint with golden arches showing up the next time a user makes a run for the border or popping up an ad for a car dealership or rental car agency for someone sitting at a bus stop or railway station.

To get market share, I figure Facebook is going to make these phones as cheap as possible... and as cheaply as possible. The data that they're going to gather and feed their platform will more than offset the cost of underwriting a few cheaply made handsets in very short order.

Maybe one day users will wake up and realize that Facebook is simply a large advertising platform and really not adding much to their lives. Got there myself a little while ago and disabled my account - quite freeing, to tell the truth.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor (and no longer on Facebook)
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