The unnamed "Facebook phone" will run a modified version of Google's Android operating system created by Facebook and HTC. Details on the operating system were not provided by Bloomberg's sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The long-fabled Facebook phone will offer deeper integration with Facebook's features than is currently available from Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and other smartphones.
The social networking giant has hired former Apple and Palm employees to bolster the capabilities of its iPhone application in addition to developing the dedicated Facebook phone. The move is being made in response to complaints that its iPhone application is too slow and not powerful enough. Bloomberg's sources believe an initial refresh of Facebook for the iPhone will be available later this year, with a much bigger overhaul planned for 2013.
[ Top CEOs are surprisingly socially challenged when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Read more at Fortune 500 CEOs Shy Away From Social. ]
Facebook obviously takes mobile access to its network seriously, as half of its 900 million users interact via their handheld devices. Too bad none of Facebook's $3.15 billion in advertising revenue comes from mobile. This weighs heavily with investors, who believe Facebook is blowing an opportunity to plaster its mobile apps with ads that would be viewed by hundreds of millions of users.
"Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social," said Facebook in a statement provided to Bloomberg. "We're working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world."
On the surface, this makes sense. With approximately 450 million mobile users, Facebook owes its base a solid experience when they choose to connect. I'm not sure creating a dedicated Facebook phone is the way to go, however.
Hardware makers have tried several times to integrate Facebook deeply into smartphones, only to fail. INQ, a British company, made a series of devices that were Facebook phones. After several years and generations of hardware, INQ essentially fell off the face of the planet.
Same goes for HTC's own Facebook efforts. Last year, Facebook's supposed favored partner failed with two high-profile Facebook phones: the Salsa and ChaChaCha. The ChaChaCa was sold in the U.S. by AT&T as the Status. It was not a popular device.
These failures don't necessarily mean that Facebook can't succeed, but they should provide Facebook with enough good sense to know when to cut and run.
Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)