“This could potentially shift the paradigm of what social networking and mobility can be and should be,” says Raymond Llamas, a senior research analyst for IDC’s mobile devices group. “Consider this: a smart phone that automatically checks you in on your location, finds your friends in the same area, uploads pictures of what you do to Facebook for all your other Facebook friends to see.”
The biggest challenge, Llamas says, would be convincing people to switch from existing phones, which do a pretty good job on many fronts, including providing a way to use Facebook via an app.
Then too, the company would have to expand the functionality of its phone beyond Facebook. “Here’s the whole crux of the situation for them,” says Mike Morgan, an analyst at ABI. “Is FB enough to make a device desirable? To this I would say no. The day of single-purpose devices has long since passed.”
Chetan Sharma, a mobile communications consultant, says that Facebook’s user base makes “entry into the [smart-phone] market compelling.” However, he adds that simply adapting the Android operating system may not be enough. “If they want be serious longer term, they might have to own a platform. They could also entirely focus on HTML5-based platforms and services and avoid the investment” of developing apps for a new operating system.
Al Hilwa, program director for IDC’s application development software group, says that in the long view, a giant like Facebook just needs to spread its reach, much the way Google branched out by launching the Android mobile platform and the Google+ social network. “If someone gets into your business, it’s almost incumbent on you to get into their business—otherwise, you get into a situation where they block you out. That’s not an immediate risk right now for Facebook, but that is one of the considerations. You want to try and own the whole data chain, end to end.”
Indeed, ABI’s Morgan says that a Facebook-centric smart phone is an obvious next step. “If Facebook wants a stronger mobile presence it needs to be deeply embedded so it can become part of the usage flow, so that more of what you do to collect and interact with people using your device ends up in the Facebook realm. The more you use it, the more ‘sticky’ it is,” he says.
And the result will be a huge and sustained flow of information to Facebook, which helps the company. “In the end,” Morgan notes, “they are serving us ads.”