Can Facebook’s Buffy “Stake” Its Claim In The Smartphone Market?

I swear, that’s my last bad “Buffy” pun.

Various news outlets from The New York Times to the BBC are reporting that Facebook is reconsidering an entry into the smartphone market.

For some time now, the social media giant has teased the idea of launching a phone of their own. However, early reports indicated that the project started and stopped several times until it was ultimately determined that the actual complete process of making a phone from concept to manufacturing was harder than anticipated, and the idea was scrapped.

Now though the project seems to be back in earnest. Codenamed “Buffy” (which is odd considering Buffy was a TV character that slayed things that were better off left dead), the smartphone’s hardware is reportedly going to be worked on by HTC Corp, while Facebook will internally handle the software development, which could include an independent operating system. To help get the phone out by its alleged 2013 target date, reports are that Facebook is looking for former Apple and other high end smartphone developers to add to the team, of which they may have already hired almost half a dozen.

Everything revealed so far has suggested that Facebook is taking this project very seriously. The word around the company is that Mark Zuckerberg is worried that if Facebook doesn’t make a play to start its own phone service, that it will become just another mobile app and get lost in the shuffle of the new world order of smartphone superiority. Not to mention that Facebook could lose out on advertising revenue if it starts being accessed primarily through a third party device.

Facebook still carries a lot of name value, and its internal app market could potentially be very popular if kept exclusive to its new phone, but I still think this sound like a case of overreaching. If the initial conclusion was that smartphone development was going to be too complex just a year ago, I don’t know what could have changed their minds in the meantime. Well, besides that slightly embarrassing public offering fiasco of course.  But if this is all an effort to extend Facebook’s reach enough for them to wipe some egg off of their face, things could turn ugly.

The reason Facebook didn’t announce a phone

Facebook on all devices.

I’ve been skeptical of a Facebook phone launch since the moment I first heard of the idea. My biggest question was, why? Why would Facebook want to get into the hardware game? Why would they try to pull market away from existing platforms that are already using its applications? Why would they partner with a manufacturer and go through the headaches of fabrication just to have one more device that runs the Facebook app?

I can’t think of a single compelling reason to do any of that. There’s a reason Facebook didn’t introduce a phone at its mobile even this Wednesday, and that reason is the picture you see above. All of those devices run the Facebook app. All of them. That’s what Facebook wants. It wants all of them. All the devices, all the people, everyone, everywhere, using Facebook on a mobile device, all the time. They’ll get it, too.

Yesterday’s Facebook announcement was about leveraging third party developers, about getting all sorts of tools to further enmesh people in the Facebook platform, essentially for free. As the Phandroid article I’m sourcing this from puts things:

Now, instead of Facebook going it alone to create the perfect solutions, they’ve got a world of developers all “working for them” – for free – to make Facebook’s social and mobile platform infinitely successful. Android is no different. Every time another app or game lands on Android Market, Google has provided consumers with value. All they did was create the initial tools, and now thousands and thousands of people are out there building value for their product.

That’s what the mobile announcement was. It’s giving consumers value through quality experience and giving developers the tools to reinforce that quality experience. This is what will keep Facebook from turning into MySpace. Facebook doesn’t need a phone.