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Facebook Phone: All You Need To Know + New Details

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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 (s 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


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 (s goog) 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 (s goog) planning a mobile music offering and Apple (s aapl) 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 (s nok), 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.

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46 Responses to “Facebook Phone: All You Need To Know + New Details”

  1. This Facebook phone will definitely fail for a number of reasons.

    1. Facebook’s privacy woes will be highlighted wall to wall on every tech site, blog, tech section & press publication from Dallas, London, Moscow, & all the way to Tokyo. The stigma of Facebook as bad guardians of our privacy will kill INQ’s efforts very quickly.

    2. Facebook’s stripped down Android I doubt will not meet the specs necessary to gain the “Google Experience” certification. That closes off the Android Market. Close off the apps & you’ve essentially have Microsoft Kin version 1.5 2nd beta edition. The strength of Android is it’s total ecosystem. The majority of the OS, the Android Market, & the tight integration to Google services.

    3. INQ is not Motorola, HTC, or Samsung. Right now these guys are on fire selling the top Android phones internationally. Whatever they are going to release soon will be trumped by the next wave of Gingerbread dual-core phones in 2011. Early 2011, Qualcomm will have 1.2 GHz dual-cores. Mid 2011, 1.5 GHz dual-cores will be available.

    6. Most importantly, Google, HTC, Samsung, & Motorola will be aim to pro-actively defeat it’s biggest rival. That rival is none other than Apple & the upcoming iPhone(5, HD, whatever Apple calls it.) refresh. Google must clean up the UI, get the Android Market cleaned up & better curated, & bring power efficiency to Android. The manufacturer’s biggest challenges are to come up with better screens, bigger screens, hardware power efficiency, dual-cores, better cameras, better Wi-Fi, higher capacity storage, & other goodies.

    The juggernaut created by Google & it’s Android partners won’t be stopped by a half hearted attempt. Only Windows Phone has a stones throw of being a small threat to Android’s partners or iPhone. Besides, mid to late 2010 year models will be severely discounted in 2011 to contend with the bargain basement Android customers & would most likely be upgradeable to Gingerbread. If Zuckerberg isn’t careful with these ventures, he could do some serious brand damage.

    My advice to Mark? Hire a privacy ombudsman, leave the phone making to the professionals, & hire a real UI expert.

  2. FB can make mistakes along the way and blow it. But unless they do, this will be mega-huge. I’ve been in student-marketing business for 20 years. Dealing with thousands of people under 24. I remember times before email, and now see times after it. They don’t use email anymore. Not for normal communication anyway. They treat it like a registered mail. Something reserved only for official circumstances. Unless FB blows it badly, that’s what will happen to phone numbers too. This generation soon won’t use them anymore either.

  3. Eric Chan

    wang laboratories anyone?

    just as single purposes computers have failed in the retail market .. so will single use smartphones

    as the capabilities increase, people will use their smartphones in more and more unexpected ways … no one wants to be limited to something “perceived” as being just a facebook phone

    sure there may be a niche market, but does it have a good web browsing experience, can you play all those apple store games, etc …

    merging facebook information with you address book can be valuable, same with linkedin, etc … the key to this is deeper integration with the OS for social media across ALL devices where possible, Android being the obvious candidate

    facebook won’t turn a [email protected] phone into a good phone …

    improve the software … simple

  4. Corey Recvlohe

    FB has nothing to lose, they understand how big the smartphone market will be in the next several years, so why not put some efforts into the space now and see what happens. Looks like a shrewd move to me.

  5. This is what the KIN phone should have been like. Facebook becomes the KIN Studio, with all of your on-the-phone activity available there. Frankly, it is already there, just a little awkward to access.

    On the other hand, this makes me a bit sad because Facebook will have even less of an incentive to make all their features available and bug-free (!) on my iPhone…

  6. This Can be huge , this can be exciting , this can be on top hats but what about the one’s privacy and PPl having Fake accounts to prove them who they are not ? by ppl i mean anyone who can be against humanity? just think ..
    May be its just another common step with unusual idea to step in Mobile world what Facebook did like other players?

  7. This sounds like a great approach. I am curious to what the touch screen version can do. I am under the believe the QWERTY RIM style handset is outdated, but that’s just me. God bless the older folks who can’t read the keyboard and the hardware has locked the size. However, AT&T? You are kidding, right? If FB truly wants to be successful at gaining market, go with reliability: Go with Verizon. It doesn’t matter how great the device is if the network is horrendous. Am I qualified to say this? Yes, I’ve owned the iPhone since inception. It’s a great phone, but since it was married to AT&T, the total “feel good” was gone. Even my wife’s Razr on AT&T was unreliable. In turn, that was two different phones (manufactures and styles) on the same network. Root problem: AT&T. Also, I live in a city. To continue, notice how Apple is ramping up CDMA for a newer iPhone. I hope that can be a clue. I have to believe Verizon can handle FB’s needs. Unless Verizon is greedier than Apple. Don’t have Verizon as I don’t want a contract with a Droid device. Nothing against Droid, I’ve had iPhone and the UI just rocks this world is simply the bar to exceed IMO. My work phones are on Sprint and that’s pretty much a blackberry and a palm doing paper-weight duties.
    Truly, if FB wants to build a better mouse trap, you have to look at the whole picture. Simply AT&T: Another Trap & Toll. As for UI, there’s enough talent at FB and Google to figure out the next level approach. Overall, the killer combination has to be: a reliable network (data and voice) and the interface has to be simple with polish. CPU and Mem specs are just like most software feature sets: hyped today, obsolete or common-place tomorrow.
    In closing, the mobile handset is THE social medium for this time-span. A next level company is either going to really make the medium better or over complicate it.

  8. Frankly this idea has the earthy stench of fail about it. Such a phone would be the triumph of style over substance would it not?

    Comments about the Facebook ID becoming more valuable than the phone number itself shine a light on the problem with phones like this – they’re born and discussed in an enclosed hive mind where people think that because they believe that facebook IDs are more important than phone numbers and that twitter actually matters then the whole world must feel that way.

    But the world won’t listen unless you’re solving their problems. How does this solve my problems better than the iphone I currently have or the android phone I could have purchased otherwise?

    Even if I *did* actually think that twitter mattered and that facebook was actually more than a way to keep in touch with old school friends… well then I could twit and facebook to my heart’s content on the phone I already have in my pocket today.

    Oh right. Wait, I forgot something. Spotify. I could listen to music if I had spotify. Of course. Because I couldn’t possibly have done that without Spotify… Just think of those poor iphone, ipod, zune users who are just begging for a way to listen to music on the move. And Spotify will certainly work well in areas with a poor phone signal I’m sure.

    • Marcos El Malo

      How much do you have in common with the (supposedly, according to FB) 500,000 active users of Facebook? I’d hazard to say not much, other than you’re a fellow mammal. Even if the figures are only half what they claim, they’ve got a potential user base of a quarter BILLION users. And growing. If their figures are accurate, that’s a half billion.

      If they don’t muck this up totally . . . I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to their IPO.

      • How much do I have in common with the active users of FB?

        Very good question – and again something that I think shines a light on the problem.

        I *am* an active user of FB. I use it every day to keep up with those ‘old school friends’ plus a few others who use it heavily.

        My use of the site is totally different to my teenage niece, who is on it all the time, and very different again to my closest ‘old school friend’ who lives just around the corner from me (so I see him all the time) but only checks FB every couple of months when he remembers to or when I tell him that one of our mutual old school friends has something awesome up there he needs to see.

        I could go on but I’ve made my point. Just because someone uses FB it doesn’t mean they would want a FB phone.

        Out of the 3 people I’ve just listed, all ‘active FB users’, only one would *possibly* be interested in buying a FB phone (and she’d prefer an iphone anyway) and she doesn’t have an independent income stream to pay for one.

  9. 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.

    • Marcos El Malo

      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.

  10. 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.

    • Jason Lackey

      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.

    • Marcos El Malo

      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.

  11. Bob Smith

    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.

    • Marcos El Malo

      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?

    • 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.