About 6 months ago, HTC released a pair of Facebook branded phones, the Salsa and the ChaCha, for those dedicated to the social network. The rumor mill is now turning again, saying that the Facebook itself is working hard to refresh the idea of a Facebook phone, and that they are working on one that is deeply integrates their social service at the OS level. The phone is codenamed Buffy.
The rumors of Facebook developing a phone seemed to culminate with the appearance of the aforementioned Salsa and ChaCha. Apparently, that was just a prelude. According to All Things D, Facebook is pursuing not just a new phone, but an entire operating system deeply tied into the social network. Apparently, Facebook is considering a Kindle Fire type move, in which they fork Android to provide a unique OS, one more tightly integrated to their services. Earlier this year at the Inside Social Apps Conference in San Francisco, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor said that “mobile devices are inherently social.” On one hand I might be inclined to agree, and I’m sure Facebook will work hard to integrate the core advantages of smartphones into their social platform. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all pictures automatically uploaded to Facebook, apps that are cross-functional and messaging to be intrinsically interwoven into the service. Granted, sharing from smartphones is already ridiculously easy. No great amount of effort is wasted sharing to Facebook from any major mobile OS. However, Facebook must sensibly believe that the easier something is to accomplish, the more it will be done. By reducing, or eliminating the little friction that remains, Facebook is attempting to bridge the gap from easy to effortless.
Provided that the core integration does provide valuable options, consumers may be wise to heed the past. In my experience, the Facebook application for mobile has left a lot to be desired. Phantom notifications and bug-laden chat and messaging are certainly not uncommon. With Android and iOS both increasing in sophistication, are consumers really going to trust Facebook with a whole OS when their past software has been so mediocre?
Perhaps my fears regarding the completeness of the software are unfounded. Currently, HTC is being brought in to build the hardware, but perhaps the Taiwanese company could also parlay the experience it has gained skinning Android into creating a great, customized fork of the OS for Facebook. With the release of the phone expected to be 12 to 18 months away, details will almost certainly trickle out, and many of our questions regarding the implementation of this software may be answered by sources familiar with the situation.
The biggest question may not be how Facebook chooses to implement the software, but whether or not there is room for such a platform. With two OSs currently dominating the marketplace, and several more fighting over the scraps, the competition for market share is fierce. Although Facebook is blessed with both mind share and incredibly large user base, many of those users must already swear allegiance to Apple, Android, or another mobile OS.
Can Buffy break into the game and slay the competition? I’m not yet convinced. Products only succeed on a grand scale when they meet a need. The need that Facebook is trying to meet is for those who just simply can’t get enough of Facebook, for those who feel that sharing on the current offering of mobile OSes is not frictionless enough. Certainly, those people exist. But for the majority of Facebook users, for those that do not suffer from sedatephobia, the current means are satisfactory.