Rumors were flying on Sunday about a possible “Facebook phone,” after Michael Arrington of TechCrunch published an article claiming such a phone was in the works.
It didn’t take long for Facebook to issue a forceful denial.
But Arrington kept it going on Twitter, stating: “Wow, Facebook just flatly called me a liar. Can't wait to see how this plays out.”
Later he added: “I declare war on Facebook PR.”
Whether you believe the story or not, the article Arrington ran was short on facts and long on speculation, that much is certain. He cited an unnamed source and was bemused when Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) denied his story. But just for the sake of argument, let’s go with the idea that there is actually something to this and Facebook is working on a phone.
I can’t think of a worse idea.
When Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) announced the Nexus One last year, I went on record straight away stating it was bad idea because it would undermine the developer and handset ecosystem that Google worked so hard to create. I’m here to say that Facebook doesn’t belong in the handset business any more than Google did.
Facebook is a social network, a software company that makes much of its money through advertising. The more platforms on which Facebook appears, the more money it will make. Sound familiar? It should, because Facebook is very much like Google, a company that has no business selling its own hardware (the Google Search Appliance being a notable exception).
The cellphone business in particular is as difficult as any to crack. Just ask Google. Even with power of the Google brand, the Nexus One never got serious traction. The boneheaded online-only retail strategy didn’t help, but maybe it was precisely this strategy that showed Google’s lack of understanding of the market.
Facebook, like Google, should focus on making sure it works on every major cellphone operating system, whether that’s iOS, Android, Symbian, RIM, or the new Windows cellphone platform. It should develop great apps and find new ways to get people to access Facebook from wherever they may be.
What Facebook shouldn’t be doing is trying to create a Facebook-centric phone. It’s a silly vision that would very likely end up undermining their core business model.
If Facebook does eventually design and market a phone, it will probably end by going the way of the Microsoft Kin and the Nexus One, two ill-conceived ideas from companies that thought they understood a complex market.
The Facebook phone might end up being nothing more than a figment of Michael Arrington’s imagination (or at least that of his unnamed source), but if there is any truth to the rumor, Facebook should learn from the mistakes of others who tried and failed before them. Or it will be doomed to repeat their mistakes and look just as foolish for trying.
— Ron Miller is a freelance technology journalist, blogger, FierceContentManagement editor, and contributing editor at EContent magazine.