A post on TechCrunch that claims Facebook is developing their own smartphone generated a significant amount of buzz over the weekend. Robert Scoble posted on his blog that he does not think Facebook is developing their own phone, though they are definitely working to improve their mobile apps. Scoble includes in his post eleven ways in which Facebook apps can be improved.
I think there is little debate that Facebook needs to improve their mobile apps, heck I would be happy if the Android version of the Facebook app had all of the features available for the iPhone version. However, I think the idea of Facebook making and selling their own smartphone is like Microsoft making their own smartphone. Remember the Zune Phone rumors that just seem to not die? Despite Microsoft repeatedly stating they will not make their own phone many continue to believe they will because they think Microsoft has to in order to compete with Apple and Google.
This fall we will see phones from HTC and LG that run Windows Phone 7, which is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s mobile operating system. Windows Phone 7 looks and operates much like the Zune, and it even uses the Zune software as the media player just like the iPhone has iPod software. One could look at a phone running Windows Phone 7 and call it a Zune Phone, except that it isn’t manufactured by Microsoft.
Facebook could be doing something very similar, particularly with Android. Imagine a Facebook branded “user experience” not unlike HTC’s Sense that provides deeper integration of Facebook throughout the phone. Facebook contacts are in the phone’s contacts and Facebook events are in the calendar seamlessly. HTC Sense, Motoblur, and other alternative user interfaces already provide deeper integration with Facebook than what a Facebook app provides, and I can imagine Facebook believing they can do a better job of building an integrated user experience with their service than HTC and Motorola. I don’t think it is likely that we will see a Facebook smartphone, but I can envision a smartphone that has a “with Facebook” label such as there are smartphones today that have a “with Google” label.