Tech press is full of it. Facebook doesn't need a device, this is what they need to do in mobile:

By now you’ve seen the “Facebook is doing a phone” and “No we’re not” headlines. Just check out this grouping on Techmeme if you haven’t. Techcrunch started it, with a post by Mike Arrington, that said that Facebook was secretly working on a phone.

Arrington was right that Facebook is working on mobile with some very smart folks, but the headline overreached and MG Siegler’s followup assumes that a smart team is working on a device. Well, I think that’s horsepucky until Facebook actually ships an innovative mobile app that works on all the modern platforms. Truth is, while a Facebook-branded device would be popular it won’t get most of us to switch off of the phones we already have. Even Google demonstrated the difficulty of doing that as it launched its Nexus One and then killed that effort within a few months.

I’ve been talking with folks high up in Facebook and they deny it. But one did say “our strategy is to integrate and make all phones social, not build any specific device or integration.” Also said that the only public statement they are making on the record is the one they made in Mashable, which is why I can’t use the exec’s name.

Well, OK, now that we’re clear on that, let’s talk about what I hope Facebook is doing by looking at what’s missing from Facebook’s mobile strategy:

1. Great contact support is missing. Most people don’t even know there is ANY contact support on the iPhone app. There is. Click on “Friends” on the Facebook app’s home page and then you’ll see a button named “Sync.” But does it do much useful? Not really. It puts your friend’s photo into your phone’s contacts and it also adds a link to their Facebook profile. Does it add their phone numbers? No. Email addresses? No. Other things? No. Really lame.

2. Great photo support is missing. It’s still too hard to upload a group of photos. Heck, go to the UI in the iPhone app and figure out how to upload a photo to Facebook. It’s not that intuitive. First you have to click on “Profile” and then notice the little camera icon to do it. But what if you were thinking of uploading photos that you’ve already taken? Then clicking on a camera icon doesn’t make sense, but that’s what you need to do. Plus, I need to upload my photos to other services like SmugMug and YouTube too. Why doesn’t Facebook’s app do all of those at the same time?

2. Great video support is missing. I’d love to upload a video to Facebook AND YouTube at the same time. I can’t, at least not with the Facebook app. I don’t even think Tubemogul does that yet.

3. Location support is severely lacking. Why doesn’t Facebook’s Places hook up with other location-based services in a good way yet? They announced it but I still don’t see much integration between Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, or Gowalla. Plus, Facebook’s main platform is still very poor when compared with other services. The one thing it does have is a TON of people on it.

4. It’s still hard to figure out how to granularly route messages to the right place. Why is it easier to post to a Facebook Page from Seesmic than it is from Facebook’s own mobile app? Why can you use Pip.io to send a status message just to your family, but I can’t figure out how to do that with Facebook’s own app? If I post something from a press conference that message needs to go to a different group of friends than my baby photos, yet Facebook treats them all the same.

5. Facebook’s own app doesn’t do anything with phone sensors. Why can we use RedLaser to point our phone at a barcode and learn where to buy that product but we can’t do anything like that on Facebook? Why can we “bump” our phones and exchange contact info on the Bump app, but not on Facebook? Why can we exchange payments on PayPal’s app by bumping phones, but not on Facebook’s app? Why can we find a new restaurant by shaking our phone on some apps, but not on Facebook? Why can we see how to walk to the bar we’re seeking on Yelp’s augmented reality feature but not on Facebook? Why can I use Runkeeper to keep track of my bike rides, but I can’t do that with Facebook’s mobile app?

6. Facebook doesn’t do anything with location proximity. At Arrington’s own conference next week DeHood will show off some new proximity-based features for you to keep in touch with your neighborhood but Facebook can’t show you who else is at the party you’re at, or who is within walking distance of you.

7. Facebook doesn’t do anything with geofences or, really, anything innovative with location that Foursquare didn’t show us two years ago. Yet just last week Footprint Feed announced support for geofencing your friends. Why doesn’t Facebook do this yet? Geofences would let you do cool location and proximity-based alerts. Imagine getting an alert anytime you got within 1,000 feet of Arrington, for instance! Or, anytime you’re close to an In-n-Out.

8. Absent on casual game mobile platform war. Facebook let Apple and Google get into the casual games market. Hell, they are even letting Microsoft and Nokia get back into that game! Why? Because Facebook doesn’t have a trusted payments system yet, and doesn’t have an app store on mobile phones. I bet that’s driving Mark Pincus over at Zynga nuts because now he has to hire three times the number of business development folks to cut deals with all these companies. Facebook could outstrip all of the other company’s efforts. Where did I learn about Angry Birds from? Not Facebook, and that should really be troubling to Facebook’s execs.

9. Lame real-time search and filtering features. Facebook is letting DataSift come into the market, which brings real-time filtering that is much more advanced than anything Facebook has done yet. Really surprising since Facebook bought FriendFeed more than a year ago (FriendFeed had great real-time search and filtering). Those kinds of features will really be important on mobile phones, due to the smaller screen available there.

10. No innovation in feed design/layout for quite some time. Facebook let Flipboard demonstrate that there’s a way to lay out Facebook feeds in a new, and more productive, way. Yet Facebook doesn’t even have an iPad app out yet. And I won’t even go into the other innovative apps and services that have hit Twitter or RSS lately like Flud, Twitter Times, Paper.li, etc.

11. Startups are kicking Facebook’s ass on info filtering. Look at the video I filmed last week with My6Sense (Part I, Part II) that shows just how far that company has come in bringing you interesting information from your Facebook and Twitter streams. Why hasn’t Facebook done that?

So, MG or Mike, tell me again why Facebook would do a device, or even an OS, BEFORE they’d fix all these things on their iPhone, Android, iPad, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Phone 7 apps?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Comments

  1. The biggest problem with Facebook is data-lockin, Once I have a list of friends in Facebook, I cannot export their phone numbers or email address except for using some of Facebook’s own service, how would I integrate my phone with it. And talk about walking around with a stupid smartphone which only does Facebook.

    Not that I am against Facebook or would be against their phone, most of the pointers here definitely make sense and it would be good to see Facebook delve deeper into utilizing the existing capabilities of devices rather than building one that would be the “stoopid smartphone”

    1. Well there is a LOT they could do even if you avoided talking about contact integration. They could ship their own app, though, that could be a LOT better than what they’ve shipped already.

      1. I think it is highly likely the answer is somewhere in between. It’s not “No” and it’s not “Yes.”

        Facebook may be offering a mobile OS, but that’s a hard sell vs Android and iOS. They should make Facebook deeply integrated into existing mobile systems. Contact sync, photo sync, etc. They could mace Facebook the Web OS that all mobile phones tap into.

  2. I agree with every single point, Rob. I wonder why iOS development in Facebook is treated as such a 2nd class citizen. Not too mention the poor native support on Android devices…

    1. HTC Sense does a good job too in combining contact data from multiple sources (Google, Facebook, Phone etc.). The question is: Should FB do that or the phone (software) vendor?

      1. I guess the answer is that the market should decide. If Facebook think they can develop a compelling handset/OS combo, let them try. If it is really compelling, it will sell and they were right.

        It’s what Apple’s done with the iPhone – dumb everything down (technically) so everything works seamlessly but there’s no ability to configure. The market has loved it. The first world, rich, smartphone market to be clear – but enough to make a profit.

  3. Agree with every point. Awesome post Robert. I do think that speculation around a Facebook device makes sense because of the Facebook brand (same reason why TechCrunch and others are talking about it so much). Facebook might have some holes in its site and mobile apps, but that doesn’t prevent people from using it. Would people buy a Facebook device? Definitely maybe. Would it get a lot of buzz? Definitely. Will it happen someday? Who knows.

  4. It could just be an OEM deal with some kind of cross marketing. Selling your own phone is stupid – just liense out software and brand to someone who sells phones as their primary business, though preferably a carrier deal that people will like.
    It is nice to have ideas about improving the phone software, but what it might come down to is having more ways to play Farmville.

  5. Adding a Mobile phone would make sense. Facebook’s goal must be to furthering the FB platform to gather enough social gestures to mine and sell hyper advertising for IP-TV. The priority has to be gathering content not adding features.

  6. I think that you want a lot more from a Facebook app than it’s designed to do or maybe even what it should be designed to do. Exchanging contact information, finding restaurant recommendations, using the scanner to find where to buy a product are all things that are outside the niche of Facebook. Those aren’t things that I expect out of Facebook on my computer, why do I want them out of Facebook on my phone?

    All I really want to do with a FB app is access the service as if I’m sitting in front of my computer, with some small allowances for mobile integrations like adding contact information to my contacts where applicable and they do that quite well on the Pre and Android. The closer they get to that experience, the happier I’ll be with the service. I don’t want the Facebook app to become some bizarre hybrid of Evernote, Facebook, 4Sq, Amazon and Google.

    1. Three years ago you had no clue what Facebook was or what it was for. And now you expect it to stay the same forever? I think that’s horrid expectations on your part. Four years ago it was for college kids only. If Facebook stayed doing what YOU expected it to be doing based on its past you would never have used it. Lame thinking.

      1. No, I don’t expect it to stay the same but if you’re going to start incorporating all of those things, it’s much better if Facebook evolves into it’s own OS and not an app that runs on a smartphone. My point is, I’d rather use the specialized apps already available for the task rather than see Facebook introduce a pared down version just to claim the functionality and ‘FB Integration’. There is still plenty of room for improvement in their area of expertise rather than worrying about becoming the one app to rule them all.

      2. No, I don’t expect it to stay the same but if you’re going to start incorporating all of those things, it’s much better if Facebook evolves into it’s own OS and not an app that runs on a smartphone. My point is, I’d rather use the specialized apps already available for the task rather than see Facebook introduce a pared down version just to claim the functionality and ‘FB Integration’. There is still plenty of room for improvement in their area of expertise rather than worrying about becoming the one app to rule them all.

  7. Facebook making a phone in a time of cheap commodity phones makes about much sense as Artisoft (Lantastic) developing an Ethernet card in the time of cheap commodity Ethernet cards.

  8. It must be funny to be at the helm of Facebook and read all the buzz about this, maybe they decided to leak a fake rumor to see what would happen.

    In regards to your post, I totally agree with you, specially on the android app a lot still needs to get fixed. It’s hard to get software right, it seems like their android team is very small, doesn’t make much sense to think they’re actually building a phone if you look at it that way. It’s hard enough already building a great app, building a phone experience even if they reuse android will only succeed if it’s well integrated to give the user an experience that makes sense. Would suck if they come out with a phone that has the basic Android experience plus 3 or 4 facebook apps and a facebook theme, that’d be lame.

    If facebook is doing a phone, there are plenty of great ideas to make a social-phone the way it should be.
    That won’t be built in the blink of an eye, it’s gonna take a hell of a lot to do it right.

  9. I have the CLIQ with MotoBlur from Motorola and honestly I HATED that it dumped all of my Facebook contacts into my address book when I added my Facebook account to the phone. There’s no option to add your account to get updates but not get the list dumped into the phone contacts. Why is that an innovation? I don’t really want most of those people’s numbers in my phone, and I can’t see why someone who has tons of “friends” would want that either.

  10. Samsung made a Facebook phone already, I think they called it Vodaphone 360 released only in the UK or something like that, it was one of the first AMOLED screen phones: http://armdevices.net/2010/01/16/vodaphone-samsung-360/

    Facebook can take Android and change it to be all-about-facebook-and-that’s-it. They can make billions of dollars because mobile phones are the devices with the biggest profit margins in the consumer electronics industry.

  11. Didn’t read all of the comments but the points you made in the posts shows that they are holding their trump cards for something else. As others probably mentioned, the facebook app across all the mobile platforms has large holes in it. One does one thing well but is terrible at something else. It’s like they sat down to see how they can fix the many issues then said “heck, we might as well make a device ourselves that puts our games, instant messaging, multimedia sharing and news reading functions into everyone’s hands …personally.” Google the “search engine” did it and Apple the music mogul did it. The best thing to keep a business on top is to do something no one expected, create new roads for traffic to go on…

  12. Anyone else smell a whiff of déjà vu? Of course it makes for FB to expand into communications — many people use FB as a communications hub now – literal debates about a “device” aside.

    Yet, as FB matures it will inevitably stumble into or boldly go far from where they started. The trick will be whether that can stay tethered to what FB was so strong in the first place as they expand their scope and reach.

    So far, no company has done that successfully yet – not AT&T or Google (at least not yet). And also so far, given the rough six months FB just had, I fear they are in for a bumpy ride.

    Judy Shapiro

    1. Do they “need” to provide a good experience when they`ve locked in all your contacts, several generations of your family, all your best friends?

      1. Fair point — they are already incredibly sticky since they have your social world in their digital hands – so to speak.

        But I suspect that the era of the mega socnet like FB will start to ebb. As humans, we have a natural trust of intimate connections and a natural suspicion of large groups where we do not know who to trust.

        FB is teetering on the precipice IMHO since people desire to recalibrate the “big” Internet socnet back to a human sized scale. A FB “communications” play (of some sort) I think is a hedge against that trend.

        But unlike our host Mr. Scoble — no one at FB is telling me much of anything :)

  13. Good points Rob. In addition to your suggestions about a mobile app, they should try to simplify the UI on their main website before they try a phone. The facebook stream of updates is a total mess right now. You can kind of filter it by clicking the categories on the left, but man is it cumbersome. And you can’t filter “places” at all so you get tens if not hundreds of “check ins” littering your stream per day. Why can’t I click on a “places” section to filter out just the check-ins and then sort by date/time/proximity/etc…? You can do this (for the most part) on the mobile app, right? How about small things like re-arranging the default photos view to show “recent photos” on top when you click on it, instead of “photo memories”? I usually want to see the most recent photo posts first not the old ones (memories). Why is there a facebook and a “home” button on the top toolbar? Duplicate functionality. Their privacy settings are still confusing, and using them to customize who sees your posts and status messages doesn’t take advantage of the “lists” feature very well. Whats the point of making a list if you can’t select it from the popup to customize who sees your status updates, links, photos, etc.. To do this you have to click on the status update function, click on the lock, click customize (modal dialog opens), click on the “these people” popup and select “specific people”, and then finally you have to type the name of the group into the box and select it. 5 steps… Networks, concentric social circles (friends, friends of friends, everyone, etc..), and user defined groups, are all commonly used presets, they should just appear by default in the lock icon so you can select them in one step. It only makes sense to drill down into the “customize” panel if you either want to create an ad-hoc group on the fly, exclude an individual or two, or post to a single person (in which case you should probably send them a message). I could go on, but you get the idea. Fixing these little things would make viewing data in the facebook stream and posting your own updates much simpler.

  14. Google also didn’t “build” a phone when they came up with the Nexus One, but rather got someone else to build it for them. Maybe Facebook will get HTC, HP, Dell or someone else to build the phone, Google or HP to build the OS, and Facebook wil then brand it. That’s different to building a phone, and would allow them to deny that they are building a phone. 500m gives a lot of reasons why branding a phone might be an interesting marketing stunt.

    Just, I can’t quite see how with someone else’s technology (phone and OS) it would, in the end, be different to others on the market. Google realised this, having given away their OS to so many other parties, they couldn’t prove it to be special on their own phone,

  15. yeah facebook phone would be good because all your contacts are there already- never have problem with losing numbers anymore. but can you do facetime on it?

  16. It would be nice if they simply allowed you to hide friends or apps from your News Feed. Thanks for pointing out the sync feature for Friends. I’d previously used an app to add Facebook profile pics to my iPhone contacts. However, given that it is Facebook, I did push the button on providing them with all my contact information. Their disclaimer of “Please make sure your friends are comfortable with any use you make of their information.” is also disconcerting.

    1. No kidding, that actually freaked me out and prevented me from clicking it. Something about the perceived unnecessariness of them sucking all the data out of my phone makes me stingy!

  17. All great points about what the Facebook app should do Robert. If Facebook are interested in improving their iphone app you just gave them a roadmap.

    I think it’s possible that Facebook are seriously considering their own phone or at least a partnership. Skype have already done it here in the UK with 3. If I were them I’d go further and think about MVNO.

  18. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  19. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  20. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  21. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  22. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  23. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  24. Slightly off topic… Regarding video support, you can upload a video simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube emailing it to Posterous. I know you abandoned it a while ago, but for this kind of things they are great.

  25. Awesome list of points Facebook ought to be addressing, Robert!! You’re the best. :)

    I eagerly await #9 for sure… real-time search and filtering. Though Facebook’s own deep search – and third parties like kurrently.com and itstrending.com – provide some utility, there’s nothing for mobile.

    Btw, re #4, to post to a specific friend list on the iPhone mobile app, tap the little padlock in the bottom right of the status update window.

  26. Most of the points here – Location and Facebook SCARY – DO NOT WANT!!!!!!!!
    Many of the upload features are to OTHER PEOPLES APPS, not controlled by Facebook. Everytime these other providors updated their API, facebook would have to updates its own app. You want all that integration – use a friggen desktop/laptop. Keep the mobile simple and fast. I lke the current facebook mobile app just fine on my iPhone.
    What I think facbook need is more classes of Friends. I have many “Friends” on facebook who are simply the parents of other kids my kid knows, so I can share a few photos with them. I also have people I work with, who really dont need to know I have just enjoyed a frapachino at Starbucks with Macy at location 29.25deg south by 49.6deg west, but may want to know when I post an update about a tech conference I am at. I need a “Close Friend” and “Work Friend” category.
    However knowing when my boss is approaching and is less than 100m away would be nice so I can minimize my facebook window and pretend to do some real work instead before they get to my floor.

  27. *First of all, I invite Facebook, to put it’s home in order and return user support which is missing.
    *There should be checks in place that functionality of profiles is in order.
    I have been unable to return to the maximum of 5k, since removing some users and my numbers keep
    dropping.
    There were times that I could not update info.