Facebook is holding an event later this week to unveil their "New Home On Android" at an event at their headquarters. The teaser culminates the years of speculation that Facebook has been working on a phone of its own, likely based on Android.
It makes a lot of sense for Facebook to get deeper into the mobile eco system. Facebook is now undeniably a mobile company. Over half its active users browse the news feed on the mobile. Facebook has recently become more serious about monetizing its mobile users, and has seen some success.
Even so, Facebook cannot be satisfied simply being an App on an eco system being controlled by its rivals. For all its fragmentation, Google still has an enormous amount of control on Android, and Facebook must be itching for a much tighter integration - Call your FB friends directly over VoIP, stream integration right into the home page, ubiquitous "Like" and "Share" buttons through the OS and much more must be on Zuckerberg's wishlist. Facebook integration on iOS has seem some traction, but nowhere close to what Facebook might want from the biggest platform from where its users access their Facebook feeds.
Facebook's future ambitions are also limited by the fact that it doesn't have a strong mobile story. Facebook would love to get into commerce in a bigger way - Manage virtual payments, game distribution and in-app monetization, expand its social platforms more and more into social commerce etc., and without control over the mobile operating systems, Facebook's options in this area are severely limited. A worrying trend for Facebook definitely must be its rival's strong push in this area. Amazon has a death grip on commerce, and is expanding more and more into its user's lives with the Kindle and Amazon App store. Google is determined to keep strong control of mobile and mobile ads. Apple is still the king when it comes to devices. Can Facebook be satisfied being an App on the rival's platforms?
So, it makes a lot of sense for Facebook to own more of the mobile platform. But the question is, can Facebook successfully pull this off? Can it displace Android, and be brave enough to jump into it's own OS. My own take is that Facebook can't do this as it stands today. It doesn't have the rich developer eco system around it that would allow it to build a mobile platform. It doesn't have enough traction with payments and commerce to launch its own mobile phone. It certainly doesn't have any experience with the carriers and the messy contracts that they'll have to deal with when it comes to selling a Facebook phone.
What is likely to happen is more modest - My money is on a "Facebook phone" that is Android, with a Facebook "layer" on top. Much like what Samsung has with its TouchWiz interface, Facebook can build a skin on top of Android which tightly integrates the user's Facebook friends, feeds, apps and games, but it'll still run on Android, so the user has access to the 700k-something apps on Android and all the conveniences of that eco system.
But this is surely a first step. Zuckerberg is too smart a guy to get blindsided, and must be acutely aware of the damage that is being done because of Facebook's lack of control over a mobile OS. I'm sure there's a grand plan being hatched, and this is but the first step.
We'll find out soon enough.
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