The big tech rumor over the weekend: Facebook is designing its own phone, according to TechCrunch.
It’s unclear whether Facebook is developing an operating system, an actual device, a new mobile software — or even if the rumor is true (Facebook denied it, and then backed away from that denial in the same statement to the press).
But let’s say for a moment that it is true. Not a bad idea, right? Practically everyone with an Internet connection uses Facebook and 150 million people use Facebook on their phones — why not make a phone that seamlessly integrates a phone’s features with Facebook, just like Android seamlessly integrates a phone’s features with Google products.
On top of that, mobile advertising spending is expected to grow nearly 43% this year and will grow three-fold by 2014, according to eMarketer. Not a bad time to jump on board.
Except it’s a terrible idea.
Facebook expects to go head to head with Google, Apple, BlackBerry and Microsoft, get developers to add yet another platform to write to, and get the carriers on board with adding what will likely be the biggest bandwidth-sucking phone ever created. (Imagine a phone that automatically uploads all of your HD videos and photos to Facebook and constantly downloads the media that friends post. Yowser!)
For a giant “proceed with caution sign” on branded mobile services, Facebook need look no further than ESPN MVP, the Walt Disney Co.’s big mobile gamble. ESPN MVP flopped despite an enormous advertising campaign, including one during the Super Bowl. Disney shut down the service after one year, and Merrill Lynch estimated that ESPN lost about $135 million on the venture.
Here’s where Facebook should be devoting its resources: It should sign a deal with a carrier to make Facebook the primary search, sharing and social networking tool on Android phones, just like Microsoft signed a deal with Verizon to make Bing the primary search engine.
Developers, carriers and smartphone users don’t want a Facebook phone. But they all want Facebook to be easier to use on mobile. If they all screw their heads on straight, that shouldn’t be too hard to do. -Dave