There's a little bit of new information and a lot of new misinformation about Facebook's super, top-secret phone project — her name is "Buffy." On Monday afternoon, AllThingsD's Liz Gannes and Ina Fried published "the first in a series of posts this week about the Facebook phone," revealing not only the headline-ready code name for the project but also a recently inked partnership between Facebook and HTC. (Samsung is waiting in the wings as a "potential hardware partner.") Bloggers went nuts over the news, rushing to report on Facebook's increasingly Mongolian tendency to charge into already claimed territory and set their competitors' huts on fire. One even went with the headline, "Mark Zuckerberg Wants to Control Your Phone."
Then came MG "No Fun Police" Siegler with a sobering asterisked but journalistically rigorious debunker post with quite the opposite kind of headline, "Facebook Not Building a Phone*." Siegler correctly asserts that's he and Dan Frommer have been reporting on the Facebook phone project for over a year, and while AllThingsD has some new information (namely the bit about the name and the hardware partners), they're also encouraging some false assumptions. So, how do we to separate the rumors from the confirmable reports? Let's make a list.
The Facebook phone IS NOT the next iPhone. Everyone seems to agree that Facebook is actually working on an Android-based software project. Siegler explains his asterisk, "*No Facebook employee is actually on an assembly line building phone hardware." We don't yet know how deep the software integration will be, but Facebook has already been experimenting with the possibilities. Earlier this year, HTC released the Status which AT&T describes as "the first Facebook Cell Phone." It featured a "dedicated Facebook Share button" and a few other features, but otherwise kind of looked like a BlackBerry. It's currently being offered at a 99 percent discount, or $0.01 depending on which contract you sign up for.
The Facebook phone IS probably an operating system. All signs point to some sort of platform, which is the same word that Mark Zuckerberg loves to use when describing Facebook's future. Gannes and Fried report:
Code-named “Buffy,” after the television vampire slayer, the phone is planned to run on a modified version of Android that Facebook has tweaked heavily to deeply integrate its services, as well as to support HTML5 as a platform for applications, according to sources familiar with the project.
Facebook's recently released iPad app, which we thought kind of looked like a mini operating system, could provide some indication of what that platform might look like, but we don't yet know.
The Facebook phone IS definitely on its way. Back to Siegler:
The point is that if Facebook wants to be a big boy company, they can't afford to be one code push away from banishment on the important platforms. In fact, if you want to be a dominant player, you have to own the platform. Facebook, of all companies, knows this.
With a growing army of lobbyists in DC and these reported forays into hardware integration, Facebook sure is growing up quickly.