New rumors are emerging today about the HTC Myst (via: HTC Source), the latest “Facebook Phone” being developed by Facebook and HTC. To squash the rumors entirely from the outset, it makes absolutely no sense for Facebook to make a phone, and we have no reason to believe they’re looking to get in that game at this point in time. But what if it’s true? What if Facebook and HTC truly are working on a Facebook phone they hope will compete with the likes of the Galaxy S4, iPhone 5/5S/6, BlackBerry Z10, HTC 8X, or any other major device hitting the market in the next year?
It’s certainly possible, I guess, but here are five reasons why a Facebook phone doesn’t make sense, and why Facebook should stick to perfecting their software first.
Back in 2011, HTC and Facebook teamed up to bring consumers two “Facebook” phones, the HTC ChaCha and Salsa. Both phones ran skinned versions of the Android operating system, and featured BlackBerry-esque physical keyboards that contained a hardware Facebook button that allowed users to more quickly and easily share with the leading social network.
These were not official “Facebook Phones” of course, but for all intents and purposes they represent everything Facebook could bring into a phone. Facebook wants people to use Facebook, and making it easier to post to Facebook instead of competing Twitter, Google+, Vine, and other social platform is the company’s ultimate goal, and while the ChaCha and Salsa were mostly successful in realizing these goals, the devices ultimately flopped. Nobody wanted them, in much the same way nobody really wants a Facebook phone, or a Twitter phone, or a Vine phone.
With recent updates to the company’s Messenger iOS application, Facebook has shown where it hopes to grow its stake in your mobile life. The company recently launched voice calls via Facebook Messenger, which allows users to make voice calls to other Messenger users in addition to the standard chat capabilities the service had previously offered. With each new addition to its suite of applications, including the acquisition of popular photo-sharing service Instagram, Facebook is attempting to create a one-stop shop for mobile users to engage with their social community.
Why would Facebook want to limit the devices which could be engulfed in this ecosystem, you may ask? They wouldn’t. Facebook wants every one of its 1 billion+ users to be relying more on Facebook apps and platforms, and creating preferred hardware (especially hardware like the ChaCha, Salsa, and rumored Myst) makes absolutely no sense for Facebook’s lofty growth goals.
Facebook has only recently taken strides to show the world that it truly understands mobile. Until late in 2012, Facebook’s native applications have been a pain to use, and even their latest iterations leave much to be desired. The company has shown time and time again that it truly doesn’t get mobile, with numerous applications needed to access key features. As Steve Kovach of Business Insider points out, consumers need to have Messenger installed in addition to Facebook’s core app to get voice calling to work, Poke installed to share self-destructing pictures and videos with your friends, and Pages Manager to manage pages you may be an administrator for.
The need for multiple apps is both frustrating and mind-boggling for a company with millions of dollars and top developer talent at its disposal, and the company ought to focus on perfecting their software offerings prior to taking on making its own hardware. And yes, this recommendation holds true even if the company chooses to partner with a real manufacturer (HTC) to build the hardware side of things, lest we be faced with devices that have physical Facebook, Poke, Instagram, and Pages buttons.
So in reality, Facebook still has room to grow in the mobile arena, and nowhere was this more evident than the company’s earnings call in January. One of Facebook’s biggest initiatives in 2013 will be to figure out a way to monetize mobile, and it is in this area Facebook will likely dedicate its talents in 2013. Hardware simply isn’t going to get them to where they want to be.
If the goal of the Facebook phone is to hook customers into Facebook’s social network, it’ll likely run into some opposition. Consumers increasingly utilize multiple social networks to share their lives with their connections, and making it more difficult to access competing platforms is not only bad for competition, it removes that choice that consumers have indicated they want. Many successful applications have one thing in common; the ability to share on multiple social networks. This functionality is even built into every single Android device on the market, and it would make no sense for Facebook to take it away.
This trend is exacerbated by the fact that people are getting tired of Facebook. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggested that more than a quarter of Facebook users (via: Forbes) surveyed intend on spending less time on the social network in 2013 than 2012, including a whopping 38% of users between 18 and 29 years of age. The study also revealed that over 60% of users took a prolonged break of more than two weeks from Facebook in 2012, with the most often reason for the break being due to “Facebook being too much of a time-suck.”
Finally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly stated that the company has no plans of making a Facebook phone. Of course, anything can happen, and the company said the same thing before the ChaCha and Salsa were released, though Facebook only played a minimal role in those devices. Zuckerberg’s blatant denial should all but affirm that the company will not release their own hardware in the near future. Companies tend to play the no comment card when prodded about upcoming products and services, and with Zuckerberg’s eager denial of a Facebook phone, it is unlikely the company is secretly working on such a device.
Facebook knows better than to get into the ever-crowded hardware market, and would do much better to perfect their approach to mobile applications, as well as figuring out ways to monetize their mobile presence.
So what does that mean for the rumored HTC Myst? To the best of our knowledge, the Myst will not be a Facebook phone any more than the Salsa and ChaCha were, and we have a hard time believing such a device will see the light of day in 2013. If the Myst is real, however, we expect that rumors of its close integration with Facebook are being greatly exaggerated.
This article was written by Anthony Domanico
Anthony is the Editor in Chief of Techgress, and a big mobile and gaming geek. He's covered mobile technology for the better part of three years, and gets excited about shiny, new things. He currently uses an iPhone, iPad Mini, and Nexus 7, but Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry devices are never too far away.