Most companies have expectations that they cannot shake. Some companies, like Apple, have such huge expectations placed on them for new devices, that when something doesn’t launch to match those expectations, the results can be pretty disastrous in comment threads all over the Internet. Facebook is a company that is starting to earn its fair share of expectations, and if you were anywhere near Twitter today you could see how those expectations were met during the company’s press event earlier today. It doesn’t even matter what Facebook announced at face value, because the prime question on everyone’s mind today was a simple, yet oft-repeated one: “Where is the Facebook phone?”
If we’re going to talk about a Facebook phone, we’ve got to take a bit of a trip into the past.
If you were to type in “Facebook phone” into the search box here on PhoneDog, you’d be provided with a nice list of articles written about the unicorn device. The first one dates back to November, 2010, and the title is one that you’ll see repeated quite often in this trip back in time. “Mark Zuckerberg debunks any notion of Facebook phone.” Straight and to the point. Yet, it’s a point that refuses to die, no matter how many times Mark Zuckerberg has to shoot it down. And he’s done it more times than I can count.
But the denials wouldn’t count for much if there weren’t rumors powering the energy-hungry mill. We can see rumors sprout up every once in a while, usually a few times a year, ranging in scope: INQ is making a Facebook phone; HTC is making more than one Facebook phone; and even “Nexus-like” Facebook phones. These rumors have never been substantiated, mind you. However, HTC did create two (three, if you count the AT&T-branded HTC Status as a separate device) Android-powered devices with a dedicated Facebook button, to make posting status messages even easier. The HTC ChaCha and Salsa weren’t smash hits, even with the included Facebook button, but points for effort anyway.
When it comes to rumors, I can’t help but assume the really persistent ones, the ones that just refuse to die are given life, and sustained, due to desire. Meaning, someone, somewhere, really wants that one thing to be real. In more cases than not, a rumor can just be told so many times that people expect it to happen, and then that expectation gets firmly planted on the company. Apple has so many expectations placed on them that I find it hard to believe anyone thinks they could achieve them all, but that doesn’t slow down the effort from those placing those expectations.
As I mentioned earlier, Facebook held a press event today, and the speculation regarding the event was going full-steam ahead before it kicked off. Some thought that the company would be announcing their Messenger app for the iPad. Others assumed any number of other possibilities. And, of course, the rumor of a Facebook phone refused to stay down. Right before Facebook’s event started, I saw several hints on Twitter from journalists there at the event that the theme was certainly mobile-focused.
Turns out, the event wasn’t focused on mobile at all. Or even close. Facebook instead announced their new “Social Graph,” a truly impressive search option for the social network. it works by providing a specialized search bar at the top of your Facebook page (when it launches, for everyone sometime by Spring or Summer of this year), that allows you to use real phrases and not just keywords to find things important to you. You can search for things like, "Greek restaurants in Phoenix that my friends liked," or "Photos of my friends in Japan." As long as everyone tags everything accordingly, the Graph Search really is amazing.
As it stands, though, it isn’t intended for mobile use, and it’s designed entirely around the desktop use case. It didn’t take long for several people on Twitter to start thinking about how it could be used for mobile, though, and many of those ideas were very good.
For example, both Federico Viticci (@viticci, Editor-in-Chief of MacStories.net) and Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie, Editor-in-Chief of iMore) pointed out that Facebook’s new Graph Search, in conjunction with Apple’s Siri and Voice Search, could make a potentially awesome combination. Asking Siri to find friends in your city, or a city you’re visiting, could be made possible with Facebook’s Graph Search, for example.
Unfortunately, Graph Search isn’t for mobile right now. But it is coming, as confirmed by Zuckerberg himself at the event.
Which could lead some people to wonder: What exactly is Facebook waiting for? With the money that Facebook has, and the outreach they have through manufacturers of smartphones, it would seem perfectly plausible that Facebook could, if they really wanted to, create a Facebook phone. The reason they haven’t, and maybe never will? They don’t have to. It’s that simple. They create these things, like Graph Search, and eventually build it for mobile use, and then incorporate it into other platforms. Like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, even Microsoft’s Windows Phone.
That support, which is already in place from these major companies, is what Facebook needs to succeed in the mobile industry, so they simply don’t have a reason to “strike out on their own” and create their own hardware, or their own software. The company’s focus on software and features is what keeps them going strong, especially since I know quite a few people who never, ever visit the Desktop Facebook site. (I’m sure you can find people you know who don’t, either.)
Will the rumor of a Facebook phone ever die? Probably not. Will the company ever create a true Facebook phone? Who knows? Nothing is impossible. It doesn’t matter how many times Zuckerberg or someone else denies the existence of a Facebook phone – anything can change, if given the right circumstances. But if Facebook continues to provide features for other mobile platforms that people want, I don’t see a point for a “real” Facebook phone to exist.
What do you think? Should Facebook create their own phone, even if it were to mean they’d sacrifice their momentum with other mobile platforms and companies? Or should the company keep their focus right where it is, and we can all hope these rumors fade away into the dark and never resurface? Let me know.