46 Comments

Summary:

Facebook is said to be building a new phone in tandem with INQ Mobile, a small handset maker that developed the first new phone. The phone will come to market next year. Here are some new details on the phone, and the features it will include.

facebookf8-zuckerberg

Of all the recent technology news, the one that’s held most of my interest is the existence of the Facebook phone. Why? Because I’d been aware of a project to build a phone based on Facebook for quite some time, though I hadn’t been able to confirm it from multiple sources. Well, this morning, news has emerged that the company is building a phone in tandem with INQ Mobile.

Today, Bloomberg reports that the Facebook phone is going to be sold in Europe via Carphone Warehouse and other European carriers. It will be made by INQ, which is a relatively new handset maker that got its start making a Skype phone. In the U.S., INQ is said to be working with AT&T, where the phone is going to be sold under Ma Bell’s brand. Reports say the phone will be sold in two models: a touch screen model and a QWERTY model. We reported on INQ building touch-screen phones earlier in the year.

Now here’s what I know:

  • The AT&T deal has is not yet final.
  • The phones are not going to hit the market as quickly as Bloomberg is suggesting: the first half of 2011. The phones should have been ready by now for testing in order for that to happen, but they aren’t.
  • The phone is going to show up first on Hutchinson’s 3/3G network.
  • INQ/Facebook are likely to bundle Spotify, the red-hot digital music service in their phone, though that service might not be available in the U.S., since Spotify isn’t allowed to sell its services in the states.
  • Spotify is likely to launch in the U.S. in December, which means it could also make an appearance on the Facebook phone on AT&T.
  • Much of the work on the new experience is being done by INQ. (Thank God for that, because I think Facebook is severely challenged from the user experience perspective.)

INQ CEO Frank Meehan Speaking At Mobilize 2009

Facebook+Spotify=Magic

Just to refresh your memory. INQ built the first Facebook phone and found success by simply integrating the Facebook address book into its device. In September 2009, INQ CEO Frank Meehan told us that his company would be building an Android phone. At that time, Meehan declined to comment on whether he would build a Spotify-focused phone. Since then, for European carriers, the red-hot Spotify has become one of the big revenue generators; consumers eager to get access to the Spotify service on their phone are signing up for carriers’ data plans.

Now let’s look at some of the facts: Facebook, Spotify, and INQ Mobile have a single common link: Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing who is an investor in all three companies. In addition, he owns Hutchinson, a wireless network operator that has 3G networks (branded 3) in 12 countries. INQ Mobile CEO Frank Meehan sits on the board of Spotify. With Google planning a mobile music offering and Apple already a strong presence in the digital media space, Facebook needs a music partner: Spotify.

Gimme Some Specs!

Apart from these new details, what will the new phone look like? On Sunday, Liz articulated some of the features the new phone should have in her piece. I’m extending what she said with additional information that came out in this wordy interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (but to read it yourself you will need a Klingon to human translation system) and details I have picked up from my own sources, here’s how I see the INQ-built Facebook phone experience:

  1. The Facebook layer, as Zuckerberg describes, will run on a thin, stripped-down version of Android. Though, if I’m Nokia, I would be making a beeline to Zuckerberg’s office right about now.
  2. What Facebook has to do is not build the OS, but instead build a user experience based on HTML5. WebOS did a good job of building a mobile experience based on web technologies.
  3. A consumer’s Facebook ID becomes more important than the phone number itself. Login with Facebook ID, and your social network auto-magically syncs up with the phone. (Android users have seen their Google phones do this since day one. Stacey finds it annoying.)
  4. Facebook becomes the address book or the contact list for the phone, giving Facebook users an option to call, IM, SMS, or mail their network via the data connection. Since Facebook already has our phone numbers, it can make it easy to call other cell phones or landlines. (Again, not a big deal for Android users who have this feature at their disposal.)
  5. As Clearspring CEO and one of our readers, Hooman Radfar, so aptly said, “Facebook is effectively a set of applications with an underlying common messaging and authentication infrastructure. So, by definition, Facebook also is a set of disparate applications (photos, inbox, chat) that is connected by a social layer.” That is why you will see Facebook apps will be separated into individual apps and subsumed into the phone experience.
  6. For instance, Facebook photos will communicate directly with the camera and become the repository for photos, with almost no difference in the cloud and the local photo storage. Take a picture and save it to Facebook.
  7. As Liz pointed out, Facebook can give phones presence-based intelligence based on location, scheduled events and meetings, and of course, the time of the day. You’ll see some of that in the new phone.
  8. The news feed, too, will become part of the mobile experience. I’d say it would be a more evolved experience compared to Moto BLUR and other such efforts.
  9. Using GPS chips, the phone will give you the ability to locate your friends. It can help get you discount coupons for local eateries and bars for example.  That is why I think Facebook Places is an important initiative for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, and why it ended up acquiring the Hot Potato team.

Now many would be thinking that this phone effort is a reaction to company’s break-up with Apple. Not true. Facebook has been serious about mobile for a long time, and this effort to build a mobile social layer has been in the works for a while.

PS: For more discussion about the future of mobile, you should join me at GigaOM’s third annual Mobilize conference in San Francisco on Sept. 30.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. [...] however, and further builds AT&T’s smartphone lineup, which may also be getting the INQ/Facebook phone detailed by Om. Such a carrier deal to bring the N8 to the U.S. would give AT&T customers yet another [...]

    Share
  2. “Though, if I’m Nokia, I would be making a beeline to Zuckerberg’s office right about now” – what makes you think this has not already happened?

    Share
    1. well so far this hasn’t happened, according to my sources. I would have written otherwise if that wasn’t the case :-)

      Share
      1. your sources may not have been in the same meetings as mine ;-)

        Share
  3. Something I will not purchase.

    Something I would never purchase for my Teenage daughters.

    Too much personal information, including location, in one place, coupled with a disregard for privacy.

    Share
    1. I hope they don’t get caught! Forbidden fruit, you know.

      My sense is this thing is going to be huge. This is what MS was aiming for with its miserable Kin failure. Your daughters might never forgive you if you are stubborn.

      You know what I like so far? Absolutely NO mention of productivity apps. It might not even have access to the Android Marketplace, and it won’t matter. How cool is that?

      Share
    2. Absolutely! Among my friends I see a trend of giving ever less info to this site and I am sure this is happening worldwide. What once was an interesting tool to find people you met and re-establish contact with them is now becoming a tool for spammers, scammers and just useless advertisers to see all the basic information about me, including location. I imagine walking along some crowded street with my cellphone beeping each time they spot discount offers nearby, photo of a friend of a friend taken here, someone I know (or – may know!) here and there, etc…. I feel myself being a live target and I wake up in horror! I think confidentiality is definitely something FB doesn’t care about.

      Share
  4. This can be huge. I think this is what Microsoft tried to achieve with Kin. They wanted it to be a mobile aggregator of all social networks. Even though they have failed, it does not mean it is a bad idea. Facebook got the user base to succeed. For my part, I’m pretty happy with my iPhone Facebook app. Hopefully Facebook will keep updating this app when they release their phone.

    Share
    1. This smells of Voda 360, Motoblur, Kin and other #fail. Or maybe I just hope it smells of #fail as I fear greatly an overly powerful Facebook. Indeed, mixing in Spotify is brilliant but it is possible that all our fears about Google could come true with Facebook should it become, like Frodo’s ring, the one thing to rule them all.

      Share
    2. Great minds think alike. I hadn’t even read your comment before I responded to Bob Smith. (His real name? I wonder.)

      I’m like Jason in my fear of Facebook. I’ve never signed up. But what I think about their privacy abuse doesn’t matter. This is going to be a juggernaut.

      Share
      1. Yep, you nailed it! And we haven’t even mentioned all the Facebook Apps this phone will automatically be able to run upon release.

        Share
  5. If I look at your list, that could easy lead to featureitis a la MS. Even when one automates something, what you hide and how(meaning it still has to be discoverable somehow) is as important as what you show. But most designers concentrate on what they want to show. Context is not digital(true or false).

    To Point 5. That does not cover the organization around people (social) and not docs on a systems(web). That is a point people don’t seem to get.

    Share
    1. I’d be fairly surprised if the Facebook Folks didn’t understand that to the user, the social layer IS the app. And a killer app to those who rely on (or whose lives revolve around) Facebook.

      Share
  6. [...] Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 9:54 am on Thursday, September 23, 2010 This version of the “Facebook phone” rumor makes sense: Maybe Facebook is helping on a new model from INQ, which has already made an interesting [...]

    Share
  7. [...] energy to perfecting their existing apps on Android, iPhone, Palm and other platforms.  However, a post today from Om Malik has changed my [...]

    Share
  8. Wowee that’s a whole bunch of drivel and speculation – but your headline sure is SEO-friendly!

    Share
  9. Android + FrostWire = Magic.
    And it’s already happening.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post