AllThingsD reports that the much rumored Facebook phone does exist, and is codenamed “buffy.” Facebook has reportedly partnered with HTC to build these phones, which would be running a custom version of Android.
The custom build of Android would be heavily tweaked to deeply integrate Facebook’s services, very similar to what Amazon did with the Kindle Fire. In addition to integrating its own services, Facebook would support the HTML5 based platform for applications it introduced a few months ago.
Samsung and HTC were the two prime contenders to build the phone, and Facebook chose HTC only recently, which indicates that these phones won’t hit the shelves too soon. AllThingsD estimates the period to be from a year to as much as 18 months.
The project is said to be headed by Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor.
In a statement to AllThingsD, Facebook said:
“Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.”
With Twitter being baked into iOS, and Google+ being built into Android 4.0, it isn’t really surprising that Facebook wants to build its own phone. With negotiations between Apple and Facebook breaking down over deep integration into iOS, the social network desperately needed to be pre-installed or integrated into a phone. It tried to build low cost Facebook phones, and even an HTC phone with a hardware Facebook button, but none of these handsets took off.
Where Facebook could score over other phones is its healthy relationship with nearly 500 carriers all over the world. It in fact has already put this relationship to good use by offering feature phone users in certain countries, data-free access to Facebook for 90 days.
Another area is messaging. If it manages to get some sort of concession on data used by Facebook Messenger, the service could work out as a brilliant SMS/MMS alternative. With Microsoft’s investment in Facebook, maybe Skype could be integrated in a similar fashion, but that’s highly unlikely, at least in the near future.
Facebook has to distinguish itself from other phone manufacturers in the market, to provide buyers a good enough reason to purchase its device.
The 12 to 18 months period, most likely, would be used by Facebook to push developers to build apps on top of their HTML5 based mobile platform so that when the device débuts, it has a respectable app catalogue.
What other feature do you think would make the phone compete better with the phones in the market 12 to 18 months down the line?