Facebook Phone? Maybe. Good Idea? No

It was quite the weekend sensation: TechCrunch thought it had a resonant story — though perhaps not in this way.

It’s hard to say exactly why the TechCrunch piece on Facebook developing a branded phone caught so much fire and ire. It might, however, be because Facebook took the somewhat unusual step of denying it (or … did it?) rather than ignoring it.

We don’t know what Facebook is up to, or if the sources TechCrunch still has faith in are wrong or right or — if the latter — such a project is much more than a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

But would a Facebook phone make sense? I don’t think so. Facebook integration in Google Android phones is very deep, so much so that it is arguably better to use than Gmail contacts. Ironies aside, this is exactly the sort of advantage one would presume that building the delivery mechanism would get you, and they have an amenable platform to do pretty much whatever they want in software.

On the iPhone, the Facebook app seems to be a better embodiment of what social networking is all about, without all the bells and lights and noise that get you all distracted on the pinball machine that is Facebook.com.

Can the experience be improved on mobile? Sure. And it will be, of course. We know this without sources telling us, because that is the way of the world. The question is, how. The answer, I think, is not hardware.

Mobile phones are the No. 1 accessory for most people, especially the core demographic that uses a social network like Facebook. Are these customers going to pick a phone to just to perfect their Facebook experience? Would you pass on an iPhone or an Evo or the next fantastic Android handset that comes out, just to bathe in mobile-Facebook goodness?

Even if the phone is free? Even if they pay you to get one? Even if it only had to be the second, single-purposed phone in your life and you kept it in your office drawer because your enterprise network blocks out the site? Even if it really isn’t a phone but an internet appliance that depends on available Wi-Fi … you get the idea.

This seems like the tail wagging the dog. For example, there have been plenty of internet watches from companies run by smart people who hired smart people to make them — just ask Microsoft, which introduced one in the internet’s Triassic age (seven years ago.) Or LG, which unveiled one at CES 2009.

These wonders of technology do things that Dick Tracy could only have imagined. How many have you seen at SXSW? Anywhere in the wild?

Right. Because watches, like your mobile phone, are a statement.

Smartphone buyers won’t sacrifice substance for style — and they don’t have have to. Even Google doesn’t like its Android-powered phones being called Google Phones because, as powerful as the brand is, it sounds like all they do is Google stuff. The backlash on a “Facebook Phone” — that is what it would be called, make no mistake — would be tremendous.

Facebook may have ambitions outside its comfort zone, and heaven knows it has the money to entertain any fantasies it may have. But if one of them actually is sponsoring a branded handset, the company should be asking itself what we’re asking: Who needs it?

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