Facebook has a press event scheduled for this Thursday where it's going to discuss its position in mobile. Rumors span from an all-out Facebook phone powered by a custom version of Android—here's what it probably looks like—to a new piece of Android software that puts your News Feed on your home screen at all times. It's possible we'll see both, but history tells us that a "Facebook phone" will be a flop. The HTC ChaCha and the Salsa were revealed a few years back. The ChaCha launched on AT&T as the HTC Status and was a failure – who cares if you can tap a button to update your Facebook status? Consumers clearly didn't.
And yet Facebook appears to be stepping up to the plate for another try. We've published several stories on the rumored HTC Myst, which is apparently the latest "Facebook phone." Unfortunately, the specs are mid-range at best, so we're not looking at a device that's going to blow our minds. Still, mid-range could be the goal, since it will open the device to a larger market of people who may not be interested in spending hundreds of dollars on a smartphone.
I've argued that the new focus on smartphones isn't really about hardware anyway, and more about software and services. We see that war being waged between the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 right now. Both phones have unique features on the software side that are are added values. After all, what good is amazing hardware if you can't do anything with it? Still, those phones, combined with the rumored iPhone 5S, will certainly give consumers a better option than the Facebook phone. Why? You can do more with them. HTC has BlinkFeed that combines all social networks as well as news feeds into the home screen. Both phones have IR blasters for controlling your TV, high-end cameras and big 1080p screens. Mark my words: you won't see any of these features on the Facebook phone.
So perhaps the real focus will be on the Android experience and what Facebook will do to change it. My worry here is simply that I don't care, and I doubt many do, to be bombarded by status updates and photos on my home screen. Social networks are about a piecemeal experience that can be read bit by bit. I get social network fatigue and I don't want political or religious rants in front of me when I'm trying to check my text messages. Worse, Facebook has ramped up its advertisements in the news feed, which means there's a possibility I'll see ads for free games and sales on designer jeans flowing down my home screen. How awful.
The standalone Facebook application is good enough for me right now, and I don't need a social network, whether it's Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, in front of me at all times. It's easy enough to share photos, my location, and my thoughts through a single application. It takes two taps, literally one tap to open the app and another to hit the "update status" button.
So my question is this: where's the value add? What can Facebook do that will sway not only myself, but consumers, away from other smartphones and to its own device? Will it eliminate ads? I doubt it, that's a huge revenue source. Will it make networking easier? How can it? I don't see a clear end goal that will not only build upon, but surpass the options that are already available on the market.
The Facebook phone is a dead-end. A cul de sac. We'll venture down the street, check it out, and turn around back to the highway where we'll be on our way again.