You’ve seen other people’s predictions about what’s coming from Facebook today. At 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time Facebook will be announcing something mobile. You can watch along live.
In an interview with HighFiveLabs’ team, a new popular mobile app developer, CEO Kiran Bellubbi told me he thinks Facebook is coming out with a new “Facebook phone.” I told him that would be idiotic. With one caveat, that I’ll cover later.
Some things to cover before we get to the heart of the matter:
1. Facebook hates Google (and Google hates Facebook — I’ve heard that at Google you are not allowed to build any Facebook features into Google products and over at Facebook Zuckerberg snuffed Google and made an exclusive deal with Microsoft’s Bing to add social features to that search engine).
2. Facebook is so powerful that mobile companies are forced to build their own Facebook apps, after all, who would buy a phone that doesn’t have Facebook today? Not many people. RIM’s Facebook apps? Built by RIM, not by Facebook. Microsoft’s? Built by Microsoft, not by Facebook. Nokia’s? Built by Nokia, not by Facebook.
3. Facebook’s development team is still pretty small. Only a few hundred engineers. They need to focus on ways to get them to a billion users.
Let’s say Facebook did its own phone. What would that cause? Well, for one, it might piss off some of the mobile phone companies that aren’t already pissed at Facebook. That would push more of them to make deals with Google to help reduce Facebook’s influence in this industry. That’s one hit.
But what OS would such a device have? Android? No way. Zuckerberg isn’t going to get in bed with Google. So, what else is left to choose from? Nothing. Nada. There’s no other good web-centric platform to build a really great device on. Well, there’s Apple, but is Apple willing to give up control? Hell no. How about Microsoft? No units out there, no apps. Zuckerberg isn’t about to randomize his development team on such a project. Hit two.
Let’s look at the users. My wife is about as addicted to Facebook as anyone on the planet. Would she move from iPhone to something else just to get a cooler Facebook experience? No. Why not? Her other addiction is Angry Birds. Plus, she’s locked in by AT&T anyway. Most users are like this (look at how popular RIM and Nokia remain around the world, even while there are much better mobile systems out there, for instance). Facebook can’t take on the risk that a new mobile device would represent. If they fail at it (and even Google’s Nexus One experiment failed) then they’d kill any chances of going public soon.
So, what will Facebook do instead?
Long odds? A major deal with Apple.
Better odds? A new cross-device platform that will let new mobile developers ship Facebook apps to mobile phone users without going through the Apple and Google stores.
Best odds? New iPhone and iPad apps with new mobile/social/location APIs so that developers can build new mobile apps with social features included in them.
Me? I’m hoping that Mark Zuckerberg, in about an hour, will introduce Steve Jobs and show off a major new development effort that will keep Facebook and Apple strongly aligned for a decade.
What are you hoping for?