When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company had no plans to create a Facebook-branded smartphone during a conference call with analysts and reporters, he really was just stating the obvious. No one can be sure, but Zuckerberg and co. were probably never really serious about the idea anyway.
What is more likely is that the company is looking at this from a software angle, whereby apps and services can be built on top of Facebook. If that is indeed the strategy, then it could conceivably work on all four of the top mobile operating systems. "Building a phone wouldn't make much sense for us to do," Zuckerberg was quoted as saying.
An ecosystem with Facebook as its foundation could breathe new life into the social network, and give it more streamlined objectives in the mobile space. There are already tons of apps and games designed for the site, so transitioning that to smartphones and tablets makes sense. The evolution of HTML5 is likely to make that transition even smoother. Content partners and a developer community devoted to the Facebook platform would definitely turn it into more of a self-sustaining ecosystem than just a social network people go to kill time.
This seems like the most logical strategy for the company to take, especially now that it's gone public and the stock hasn't borne fruit for investors. A Facebook phone would also be overkill. Gone are the days of curiosity and intrigue that prompted millions to join the site in 2006-08, so while it wouldn't require an outright reinvention, the company's long-term fortunes rest on how it evolves on the devices consumers use the most.
As it stands, Facebook apps for the various smartphone platforms leaves a little bit to be desired. It took the company a long time to get a dedicated iPad app out to the market, though its integration in Windows Phone, at least as it pertains to contacts and messaging, is an encouraging sign of what can be done. Even so, Zuckerberg did say that Facebook is the most widely used mobile app in the world across the board.
In spite of all that, his comments don't preclude the possibility of a partnership with a manufacturer. Except it really does beg the question of what a Facebook phone would be? What would it bring to the market that would set it apart from the likes of Apple, Samsung and even RIM and Microsoft?
Going from a software company to a hardware manufacturer can be done (Google and Microsoft come to mind), but there's a big difference here. Google would have likely never entertained the idea of building a phone had it not bought Android Inc. in 2005 and developed a mobile OS that it ultimately gave away for free to any manufacturer that wanted it. The fact that there was an OS developers were building on gave them all the impetus they needed to bring a few phones to market. Acquiring Motorola then gave them a brand and numerous patents to work with.
Facebook would likely have to go the same route, if Zuckerberg were to ever get serious about launching a phone. The company has money to make moves, but it seems more plausible that cash would be spent on developing the social network and acquiring certain software assets. Instagram is a recent one that comes to mind.
The advent of HTML5 could change the way the site itself runs, thereby leading to a ripple effect on mobile platforms. Would users be willing to use a dedicated app on an iPad, or browse an HTML5-powered site with all the features and nuances that come with it?
He never referred to it, but it's certainly possible that the company's mobile and Web strategies are actually one and the same. That being the case, it truly wouldn't make sense for Facebook to build a hardware device others can build on top of when a software ecosystem can do that much better.