Facebook plans for a mobile phone

Rumour of choice over the weekend was the report that Facebook is developing software for a branded Facebook mobile phone.

According to TechCrunch, the project is a secretive, high-level project at Facebook who will be working with an external manufacturer – possibly another deal with smartphone manufacturer INQ, who share an investor with Facebook in Li Ka-Shing.

Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos, two senior Facebookers with operating system experience, are said to be working on the project. An additional report by BusinessInsider claimed the phone would be based on Google’s Android operating system – a bizarre setup considering a more mobile-powerful facebook would help the company compete with Google and Apple for Silicon Valley dominance.

A statement from Facebook PR said the reports have not been accurate, which isn’t the same as a denial, and while it states ‘Facebook is not building a phone’ it doesn’t say anything about software.

“Facebook is not building a phone. Our approach has always been to make phones and apps more social. Current projects include include everything from an HTML5 version of the site to apps on major platforms to full Connect support with SDKs to deeper integrations with some manufacturers. Our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social, so integrating deeply into existing platforms and operating systems is a good way to enable this. For an example, check out Connect for iPhone and the integration we have with contact syncing through our iPhone app. Another example is the INQ1 phone with Facebook integration (the first so-called ‘Facebook Phone’).”

Hewitt and Papakipos and working on those projects, the PR claimed. As for Android, Facebook contacts already sync impressively easily with Android phones but no doubt Facebook thinks that integration could go deeper. Around one third of Facebook’s use – 150 million of those 500 million active monthly users are already generated by mobile. GigaOm’s Liz Gannes writes that extended features could include displaying contact availability, a dynamically updated address book and more third-party integration with location, for example.

Despite those carefully worded ‘denials’, CNet followed up the story further confirming from its own sources that Facebook had talked to both hardware manufacturers and operators about a Facebook-branded phone. The most likely scenario is a phone made by INQ or HTC with heavily-enhanced Facebook features on Android software and offered exclusively on one operator.

Though Google’s phones didn’t exactly take the mainstream market by storm, Facebook’s dependent users could create a different story. It’s a risk, but one that vast userbase should compel Facebook to take.