Rumors of a Facebook phone swirled this week after TechCrunch published a story citing an anonymous source that confirmed the social networking giant was in cahoots with a third party to build a smartphone. Facebook has since denied those claims, but industry analysts and experts are still debating the issue.
Why might have Facebook decided to go the smartphone route? TechCrunch's source claims that Facebook's concern about the iPhone and Android platforms grew when Google announced the Nexus One. That's when Facebook supposedly started working on its own.
A Facebook phone could be a dream come true for over-sharers and power users, but envisioning a majority—or even a minority—of users interested enough to purchase such a specialized phone is difficult.
A discount website recently surveyed 1,500 people about the rumored Facebook phone. Only 24 percent said they would "probably purchase it."
Facebook faces a challenging road if they truly are bringing a phone to the market. To avoid the same path that Google's Nexus One went down, Facebook needs to strongly consider three factors before making the move.
1. Facebook's stance on security. Facebook's rocky past with security and privacy left a lot of users wary of the social networking site and the information about themselves they share with it. And the unearthed instant message conversations from founder Mark Zuckerberg's college years didn't help, either. TechCrunch's story reports that Facebook wants to integrate deeply into the contacts list and other core functions of the phone. "John Smith commented on your two missed calls from Jane Doe."Cue the privacy nightmares.
2. Timing. The Social Network, the reportedly scathing movie of Facebook's rise to fame, is set to debut Friday at the New York Film Festival. The New York Times recounts that, "In [writer Aaron] Sorkin's telling, Mr. Zuckerberg is not so much villain as antihero, a flawed human being whose deep need for acceptance becomes the driving force behind a Web site that offers the illusion of it." Zuckerberg says the movie is fiction, but nevertheless movie critics say the flick will taint people's views of the social networking giant—press Facebook could certainly do without, especially preceding any announcement of a smartphone.
3. Facebook apps are already everywhere. There's a BlackBerry Facebook app, one for the iPhone, one for the Android, etc. Facebook apps are everywhere, and they're already connecting people. Scroll down your friends list in the iPhone app and if someone has added his or her phone number, you can call or text the person directly by clicking on an icon.
Facebook apps offer the same functionality as the website, and sometimes dish up even more perks, such as Places, a new geolocation tagging feature. A Facebook phone will need cooler, more irresistible features than those that the readily available mobile apps already give users for free.
What do you think about Facebook's rumored phone? Would you buy one?
Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Kristin at email@example.com.