updated 11:50 am EDT, Sun September 19, 2010
Facebook wants own device
(Updated with Facebook response, below) Facebook may be designing its own phone if a rumor emerging on Sunday is accurate. The project would follow the familiar strategy of contracting a company to build the hardware while Facebook works on the software. It would integrate the social network into the deepest levels of the phone, such as making a call to a Facebook friend rather than just a phone number, according to TechCrunch.
The company's former iPhone app developer Joe Hewitt, as well as Google's previous Chrome OS project leader Matthew Papakipos, are believed to be working on if not leading the project. Both have experience in web-based operating systems. Chrome OS is well known as being based on Google's Chrome browser, while Hewitt had been working on a similar project, Parakey, in 2007.
The same source discussing the project also claimed it was direct reaction to devices with full hardware and software integration, particularly the Google Nexus One but also Apple's iPhone. Facebook already has full-featured apps for both but only a mild amount of integration. It has a deeper level of influence on webOS and will have more still with Windows Phone 7, but neither HP nor Microsoft are expected to have significant market share.
As the project is still in early stages, the features of the phone, its release date and other details are still unknown. A possibility is INQ, whose phones are already centered around social networking; both it and Facebook share Li Ka-Shing as a common investor and may have used him as a broker. HTC could be the other candidate as it's considered more platform-agnostic and is willing to support custom development.
Update: Facebook has denied making a phone of its own. It agreed that it was working on deeper integration of the social network with phones, but through its traditional approach of talking to other companies and not with its own devices.
"The story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate," the statement read. "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'). The people mentioned in the story [Hewitt and Papakipos] are working on these projects. The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a 'Facebook Phone' because that's such an attractive soundbite, but building phones is just not what we do."