Facebook Phone: 4 Reasons Why It's Crazy - InformationWeek
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11:06 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

Facebook Phone: 4 Reasons Why It's Crazy

Reports of the fabled "Facebook Phone" have resurfaced, this time linking HTC to the social network. Here's why you shouldn't believe them.

HTC has decided to strengthen its relationship with Facebook, rather than Google, and will forge ahead with a dedicated Facebook phone, reports DigiTimes. Citing sources familiar with HTC's plans, DigiTimes believes the company will bring a Facebook-branded smartphone to market during the third quarter.

The reasoning behind the decision, said DigiTimes, is because HTC feels burned by Google's tighter relationship with competitor Samsung. HTC built the first Nexus phone for Google (Nexus One), but Google has picked Samsung over HTC for the last two Nexus smartphones (Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus). Worse, supply chain sources suggest that Samsung has already been chosen by Google to make the fourth Nexus device. This has left HTC feeling like it needs a new partner in the smartphone space to help set it apart.

"The new Android smartphone being developed by HTC will have a platform exclusive to Facebook to enable and integrate all functions available on the social networking site," said the report. Folly, I say. Here's why.

-- INQ: A British company called INQ sold Facebook-focused phones for years. It started with a feature phone that used Facebook's developer tools to hook into the contact database and provide direct access to features such as posting status updates, comments, and IM conversations. The hardware was lackluster at best, but the idea won INQ awards.

The company later switched to providing a user interface layer on top of Google's Android platform and came forward with several new lines of phones. They never caught on, and INQ is more or less defunct at this point.

[ Take a look at the HTC One S: T-Mobile's First Android 4.0 Phone. ]

-- HTC Salsa/ChaChaCha: In February 2011, HTC outed two Facebook-focused phones, the Salsa and ChaChaCha. Both phones featured a Facebook button that could be used to automatically share whatever was on the phone's screen--be it a Web page, photo, etc.--with a user's Facebook friends. The button itself would pulse when new Facebook messages/content awaited the owner's attention.

The Salsa was never made available in the United States, though the ChaChaCha was sold by AT&T as the HTC Status. It was not a successful device for HTC nor AT&T.

-- Android/iOS: Facebook's current level of integration with Android and iOS makes a dedicated "Facebook phone" completely moot. Facebook already offers rich applications that mesh well with the world's two most popular smartphone platforms. There's little need and little market for a phone that does only one thing well. Most users need their smartphones to excel at many tasks, not just one. Even the Windows Phone and BlackBerry Facebook apps offer decent access to the social network's features. It's hard to see what a dedicated Facebook phone could offer above and beyond what's already available to the bulk of today's smartphones.

-- Smartphone Sales & The Bottom Line: HTC already sells smartphones running Android and Windows Phone, as well as some devices running Qualcomm's BREW MP. Would the new device be based on Android, BREW MP, Windows Phone, a proprietary OS, or something else? HTC has just kicked off its three main devices for the year in the One X, One S, and One V--and they all run the latest version of Google's Android platform. HTC needs these three phones to be successful in order to help turn its smartphone fortunes around. Branching off with an experimental device is the last thing HTC needs to waste money on at the moment.

I'm not suggesting that there's no merit in the idea of a Facebook phone. To date, however, such dedicated devices have met with failure. HTC knows this based on experience.

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