Facebook Fumbles Its Way Toward a Phone

Categories: Tech
Facebook is building a phone, the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital is reporting this week in a series of posts.

Facebook basically has to do it if it wants to stay in competition with Apple and Google as the go-to online destination -- or platform, or "ecosystem." Lots of people make Facebook the hub of their online experience when they're on a computer. But for now, Facebook is just another app on the iPhone or Android mobile operating systems. And then, the app isn't all that great.

A phone with Facebook tightly integrated into it (via a "forked" version of the Google's open-source Android) is the company's solution.

The problem is, Facebook has been working on a phone for at least a year, and All Things D reports it will be at least another year -- and perhaps 18 months -- before the Facebook phone, codenamed "Buffy" after TV's erstwhile vampire slayer, is built. That's a long time in any technological realm.

In the battle for mobile supremacy, it's an eternity.

It seems like Facebook doesn't really have its act together, phone-wise. The company put a bunch of elite technologists in a separate building to work on the thing -- unusual for the egalitarian company. "To have a secret team operating out of a separate building drew a lot of interest and also jealousy from other employees," All Things D reported. "But, as often happens in ambitious efforts like this, the project quickly spiraled out of Facebook's expertise and into budgets that were impossible without an IPO or perhaps a billion-dollar fundraising."

Ultimately, the company decided to build something based on Android. Several team members left the company and Facebook started working on what is now being called Buffy. Reportedly, the Taiwanese cellphone maker HTC will manufacture the phones, and Facebook will support HTML 5 for building apps.

Of course, as with everything Facebook does, the question of privacy is already being raised. Facebook isn't commenting on Buffy, but a spokesperson told All Things D that the mobile experience is better when it's "deeply social." That comports with what CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said several times about Facebook wanting everything everyone does online to be shared with friends -- in some cases, whether they like it or not. It's why your news feed is filled with tidbits about what songs your friends are listening to, and it's why that obnoxious ticker on the right side of the page is constantly being updated with your friend's every last move.

What might the ticker look like once Facebook becomes a phone provider? It's hard to say, but maybe it will look something like this:

Bill Jones commented on Jesus Garcia's status.

John Smith ordered a pizza.

Mary Johnson likes Wing Lei's link.

Fran Miller spoke with her divorce attorney.

Gladys Spooner posted a photo.

Glen White called 1-900-HOTT-ASS

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

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