What's up with Facebook and mobile? Do we really need a Facebook phone?

If Facebook is announcing a phone this week, what will it be and will it fit into a crowded mobile market?

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Facebook will be having an event at the company's headquarters on Wednesday – an announcement that the company says will be mobile-focused. There have been rumors for months now that Facebook is creating its own mobile phone including rumors of the project being carried out in a secret building.


Facebook issued a statement about the rumors in September claiming that the company is "building" a phone. In the same statement, however, Facebook also acknowledged that it was working projects that included "deeper integration with some manufacturers" – leaving anyone to guess what those carefully chosen phrases might mean. After all, Google used similar language when it came to the Nexus One last year (the only Google-branded Android phone, which largely failed a direct sell to consumers outside of a carrier).

It's not a stretch to think that Facebook has developed a phone with a major feature phone/smartphone manufacturer. Manufacturers have taken to customizing Android phones with their own interfaces (called skins) and developing a Facebook-specific skin for Android (or some other feature phone OS) wouldn't be particularly difficult.


However, the company could be simply announcing updated OS integration with one or more smartphone OSes like Android or webOS 2.0 along the lines the integration in Windows Phone 7. They could even be announcing nothing more than a broad upgrade of Facebook apps for any or all mobile platforms, though that seems unlikely to warrant a major event.


My personal thought about the rumors is: do we really need or want a Facebook phone on the market?


Windows Phone 7 illustrates that Facebook and other social media services can be very well integrated with existing platforms. webOS and Android could each easily lend themselves to similar integration, though Apple's iOS would not without some special relationship with Apple that allows access to the core OS components (which aren't available to developers). But, there was that recent dinner Mark Zuckerberg had with Steve Jobs, which could've been about more than the Ping social network Apple built into iTunes 10 (as assumed) – it could've been about something else entirely. And several feature phones already offer pretty heavy Facebook access and integration.


There are some interesting, if unlikely, possibilities:


Facebook could be planning a feature phone in the manner of Microsoft's Kin (a dismal failure all around), perhaps with more smartphone-like features.


A fully-branded smartphone could allow deeper integration with the range of Facebook apps and games (though some game developers already offer apps for other platforms that integrate with their offerings).


A phone could be designed to push features like geocoded photos and content as well as check-ins using Facebook's Places feature (something that hasn't had a spectacular adoption even though it exists in Facebook apps for existing platforms).


The company could partner with an existing U.S. carrier (and perhaps international carriers) to deliver Facebook-branded service. This could be in the form of an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) where Facebook would offer its own service and feature plans piggy-backed on major carrier's network (think Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile on Sprint's network). Alternatively, the partnership could simply be as a promotion on a given network akin to the NFL sponsorship of Verizon (and Sprint before them).


What will the announcement be? We'll find out Wednesday.


Have your own speculation? Have reasons that a Facebook phone makes sense for the market? Let me (and everyone else) know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfass.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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