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 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.