Facebook

So we'll be at Facebook HQ on Thursday morning to find out about its "New home in Mobile." I've seen countless headlines (mostly rewrites of what probably are controlled leaks) full of possible answers about what we'll see on Thursday morning.

We'll be there, of course, to check it out. Liveblogs are inevitable, but Facebook should be streaming it live, if history repeats.

I don't have answers. But I do have a few questions. Will they be answered on Thursday? Or will we leave California once again asking "Why, Facebook? Why?"

A few thoughts worth exploring ...

1. What, exactly, is Facebook's new home in mobile?

The most basic question out of all this. What the hell is Facebook up to? A new app? A "forked" or "custom" version of Android? (And I think there's a pretty big misunderstanding about what, exactly, that means.) A dedicated phone?

At the very least we'll probably get an updated Facebook app. I'd be extremely surprised if that's all we see on Thursday, but there's at least some precedent -- Facebook has invited us to an app update event before. But there have been too many controlled leaks -- and, frankly, so many more invites sent -- for merely a better app. Something bigger is coming.

I think TechCrunch's "Facebook Home" scoop is the direction we should be looking. I'd put at least a little money on some sort of custom launcher. Call it a "skin" if you really want to. We hear terms like "deeper integration," but nobody ever really says what that means. (Sounds good, though, doesn't it?) But that in and of itself begs yet another question: How will Facebook do it this time? It was half-assed with the HTC ChaCha and its keyboardless cousin, the Salsa, in 2011.

I'm not betting on an off-the-Google-reservation operating system like Amazon has done. That's what people usually are thinking of when they talk about "forked" Android. For one, there's the apps problem -- and that's a pretty big problem. No access to Google Play services means a tougher (but not impossible) road to download mainstream apps. Unless there's some sort of collaboration with Amazon and its Appstore (and to be clear, I don't think that's the case), you'd essentially have a dumb, Facebook phone. 

2. Why new hardware?

All signs are pointing to some sort of new phone from HTC in conjunction with all this.

Why?

Why does a launcher or software layer or whatever the hell we're going to call it need new hardware? Is Facebook going to sell this hardware? Will it end up in Best Buy alongside the 5,000 other phones? On Amazon? Even if it ends up in carrier stores, that's no guarantee it'll sell enough to make it worth it. 

Make no mistake, this is all speculation until Thursday. But I'm completely in agreement with PC Mag's Dan Costa, who says simply that Facebook going the hardware route "is a really bad idea" before breaking it down point by point.

One thing I'm not overly worried about is the "HTC needs to focus on whatever and not do more than one thing at a time ..." argument. Manufacturers develop far more phones than you or I ever see. What's one more? Even for HTC, it shouldn't be so great a tax of resources that the rest of the company falls down. HTC's problems have been elsewhere. (And if Facebook's footing the bill, who cares?)

3. Do we really want more, and deeper?

Everybody uses their phone differently. Everybody uses apps differently. There are those who live on Facebook day in and day out. There are those who use it only to Facebook stalk friends. (C'mon, you know you do it.) There are those who use Facebook sign-ins for everything, and those of us who avoid it whenever possible.

Obviously Facebook has data about who uses what how, and how much they do it. Is the idea of deeper Facebook integration born from current demand? Or is the idea to spur greater Facebook use? 

Bit of both, I gather. But leads to the following question ...

4. Do we trust Facebook?

To be fair, trust is something we should question in every facet of our online lives. From the operating systems on the phones we carry, to the apps we use, to the "friends" we publicly share our lives with. And make no mistake -- Facebook makes money off of the metrics you give it. Your location. Your "liking" habits. Links you click on. That's all information Facebook uses to make a living.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and you could easily argue that Facebook has gotten better at privacy and security. But that doesn't change the question: Do you trust Facebook?

Or maybe it doesn't matter. Would a "Facebook phone" -- and I think that's probably a misleading nickname for whatever we end up seeing -- really have any greater access to your information than a good application? Chances are you've give it access to your contacts at some point, so you can find your friends. And you've sent messages through Facebook. Used Facebook Chat. What's the difference if it's just packaged better?

But that doesn't change the fact that I want to give Facebook as little of me as I have to.

5. Will Facebook finally not suck on mobile?

The cynics among us will look back on the last couple years of Facebook app updates and scoff. And with good reason. For a company as well-off as Facebook is, and as important a part it plays in connecting the world, Facebook's mobile experience long has languished. Frankly, it sucked, given the potential Facebook has a company. The first attempt at a "Facebook phone" was not good. Presumably lessons have been learned, and more attention is being paid to the finished product.

I, for one, am curious as hell. We'll find out Thursday morning. Stay tuned for a links to all our live coverage, and Facebook likely will be streaming the event live.

Other thoughts for the week

  • I brought my Galaxy S3 back to life this week, and it surprised me how much the feel of the phone grew on me. Never mind I still disagree with the button scheme. It works. And it works for a lot of people. If you're a GS3 fan, you'll like the GS4.
  • We don't do April Fools' Day joke posts here. It's hard enough getting the important ones right. But we'll link up anything cool that Google and others do. And Google's already off to a good start.
  • OK, I finally get T-Mobile's new plan structure. (Wouldn't go so far as to call it "simple," though.) What I wouldn't give for some proper T-Mobile coverage where I live.
  • Fieldrunners 2: Fun.
  • Action Launcher: Liking the latest update the more I use it.

Phil's Ingress tip of the week

You can play Ingress solo if you want, wandering the streets alone, never getting out of your car. That's how I played for a while. I wouldn't recommend it. Hop on Google Plus find an Ingress Community for your area. It'll change the way you play, and you'll probably meet some cool nerds in the process.

 

Reader comments

From the Editor's Desk: We're going to Facebook - but first, a few questions

23 Comments

I think it will be a failure like the first facebook phone. FB should worry about their app first rather than forking android

I really don't care, Facebook has ruined REAL HUMAN INTERACTIONS!! Just like text messaging has. Unless I'm really borrrred I don't go to fb as much as I used to.

Human interaction was ruined the moment the Internet became widely used, from forums, to usenet and everything in between. This is hardly a new problem.

Human interaction has only been ruined for those that let the latest available technology become their only method for interacting with humans. Your logic could also be applied to the telephone.

Human interaction has not been ruined by smoke signals, the written letter, telegraph, telephone, radio, email, internet forum, or social media site. Technology provides opportunity and it's up to each human to balance distance and direct communication.

If human interaction has been ruined by anything, it's purely the fault of humans, which I personally don't think is the case.

HUMANS ruined human interaction. Most people are dumb, d-bag, or just a plain a-hole..texting and FB just make them a little more bearable. ;)

I try my hardest to stay away from giving facebook usable data. ofcourse being a teenager I still use it every day, but I think this is a very strange move for facebook. I got the sense they were floating towards ios.

I am probably one of the few people in the first world who has never used Facebook, has no profile, and likely never will.

Here here.I'm with you. I never trusted that little Wiesel. I think the idea of Facebook could have been good but not when run by an awkward spiteful little dude who wanted to get back at a bunch of chicks who wouldn't give him the time of day. It started maliciously and by golly I hope it ends with the same degree of malice

Maybe they'll come up with their own launcher.

It is actually kind of surprising that other commercial interests haven't taken advantage of the fact that on an android phone you can literally change the entire interface (and anybody can do this). And unlike an app, if you install a custom launcher you will interact with it every time you use your phone, making the use of their services much more likely.

EDIT: the other big advantage is that unlike a new piece of hardware associated with a custom facebook OS, a new launcher pushed via the play store lets anyone download and try it rather than depending on selling an entire phone to people that is locked to facebook (which I don't see being successful)

Not saying I would be interested in this. I hate facebook with a passion and wish very much that my social life would allow me to delete my facebook account. But I think this is probably the best strategy they could take at said event.

Please don't let them be making a phone...

Hello, Phil and thanks for the article.

High hopes and also deep uncertainty about what we're going to experience next Thursday.

A note, if I may,

You referred to PC MAG Article "Facebook Doesn't Need to Make a Phone", this article was written by Dan Costa not Sascha Segan, as you mentioned. Just a heads up.

I'm with you, Phil; T-Mobile has awful coverage for me, and I'm about an hour west of you. If they improved their coverage here - even by a little bit, I'd jump on it.

My life as actually gotten a bit simpler and less stressful since I deleted my Facebook account. No one should ever know as much about people as Facebook friends do. its just not how humans were meant to communicate. knowing what 200 people had for breakfast is the main reason that I stopped. I just don't care.

So, Facebook now coming out with some new "hardware" is going to be the next thing I hear from all my former "friends" online and my real friends in person. Great....

I do not dispute for one second that we need to be careful about what kind of info we give to facebook and how we use it. HOWEVER. Google has been tracking us longer than Facebook has been a company, and now probably has more information than Facebook does. In many ways they are no different than Facebook.

And yes, there are some people who will also say that they give as little information to Google as possible too, and that's perfectly fine. I respect that and for those who do, all the power to you.

But there are a ton of people I know that don't want to use Facebook but are content to throw everything at gmail, +1 everything all over the internet and live in Google search. There is very little difference between that and using Facebook. There is perception that Facebook is more evil than Google, but their core business models are nearly identical. They just go about it a bit differently.

Totally agreed. This is why I also don't use Google+, don't use Gmail as my main Email, don't use Google Drive, and use https://startpage.com for all my searching. Sounds strange for an Android user, but I don't want all my eggs in Google's basket (and that is a basket with a lot of tendrils).

But the really interesting thing here is the general development in this area over the past years. Apple has its system, tracking our lives, Google does the same and Amazon has also hopped on the train. And now Microsoft is joining in and from the looks of this Facebook to. As more companies like Amazon and Facebook joins the "mobile phone area" maybe we will start seeing companies giving away custom Android phones (since Android is a complete and working system) just to track us a little more. Sell your freedom, get a phone - who's up for it?

Like somebody else here said, they need to worry about making their horrible app work. It has always sucked. Always!