Is Facebook building an Android phone? [update]

Android may power Facebook's phone
Android may power Facebook's phone

Whoa. It looks like TechCrunch is saying that Facebook is secretly working on a phone of its own. Off the bat this sounds like nonsense, but that publication was also the first to break that Google was working on a phone, so you have to at least give it some thought.

Specifically, Facebook wants to integrate deeply into the contacts list and other core functions of the phone. It can only do that if it controls the operating system.

Two high level Facebook employees – Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos – are said to be secretly working on the project, which is unknown even to most Facebook staff.

The publication speculates that it would be a low-end device that could retail for less than $50 (good luck with that one). The goal is to have Facebook as the heart of the device, so you’d click on contact’s names to dial instead of inputting phone numbers. This would also open up mobile for Facebook apps.

Over at AlleyInsider, the publication says the social networking company is definitely using Android for this project. That would make sense because it’s an open source platform and the world’s largest social network recently poached Erick Tseng away from the Android team.

Using Android also presents some problems though, as we know Google is increasingly wary of the clout that Facebook is gaining. I don’t think an Android device without Gmail or Android Market can succeed, no matter how Facebooky it is. Google has yet to clearly spell out what it takes to get these apps and support from Google and Skyhook would likely say that the search giant has no problem using its control over Android to hurt competitors.

We already know that the social network sees mobile as the future and it already has 150 million active mobile users. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this one as more information becomes available.

In the meanwhile, what do you think about a phone from the world’s largest social network?

[UPDATE]
Facebook has officially responded to rumors that the social networking company is working on an own-branded mobile phone – the Facebook Android phone. The official position is apparently that Facebook will not be making their own smartphone, but has reiterated that they will continue to pursue “deeper integrations” of Facebook’s social features with handset makers and existing platforms. The official statement contradicts Techcrunch’s initial report.

The story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate. 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 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.

The denial that the company is making a “Facebook phone” that runs on Android OS isn’t all cut and dry. Keep in mind that Google issued a similar denial just before launching the game-changing Google Nexus One Android phone with the help of smartphone manufacturer HTC. We’ll just have to wait and see if “deeper integrations” with smartphone makers will result in a Google-HTC type of relationship. Only time will tell.

  • Roger Thornton Brown

    If their Android phone is as good as their Android app Google will be laughing all the easy to the bank.

  • calico

    Between their deplorable privacy abuses, non-existent tech support, inconsistently enforced Terms of Service, and bugs — thanks but no thanks. They somehow don’t get the abuse reports about the “we love crush” pages (where users brag how they stomp small animals such as kittens or hamsters. Any company that really had 500,000,000 users really ought to invest in a thing called a phone number. Even if you’re a paying customer who bought advertising, forget it. All they care about is data mining and finding new ways to use info only your friends should know to sell you something.

  • Steve Naventi

    Hi Marin – Want to share the Facebook’s statement on the TechCrunch report:

    “The story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate. 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 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.”

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