Facebook is apparently trying to develop their own smartphone again, and they're prompting us to wonder if we really need one, and if a smartphone is really the answer to their problems.
The New York Times' Bits Blog's Nick Bilton reports that Facebook is trying for the third time to build their own phone. Bilton spoke to sources close to the project, and Facebook has apparently recruited, "more than half a dozen former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad," and they're trying to get their dedicated Facebook phone out by next year.
Business Insider noticed the day before Bilton's report that Facebook has been assembling the parts necessary for a mobile OS right before our eyes. Either the recently launched Facebook Camera app, or Facebook's other billion-dollar camera app, Instagram, could be the phone's dedicated camera. Plus, there's already a Facebook Messenger app, and they've reportedly looked into buying the Opera Internet browser. Additionally, we already know the Facebook iPad app kind of operates similarly to a mobile operating system.
But do we really need a Facebook phone? From Facebook's perspective, the parts are there, and so is the demand. You'd be hard pressed to find a young person who doesn't have the native Facebook app, Instragram, and Facebook Messenger already on their phones. It makes sense that they'd want to put something in the market that comes preloaded with all of those apps anyway, along with further Facebook integration.
Plus, a Facebook phone probably may not help solve their current mobile problem. Facebook isn't making any money from their mobile efforts. All of the Facebook apps are free, and they're still trying to figure out ways to generate any significant income from their mobile efforts. They wrote in their S-1 filing that if users increasingly started to use Facebook on their mobile devices, they have no way to generate any meaningful revenue from those users. Charging upfront for a Facebook phone would generate revenue, but the real question is whether the cost to get a Facebook phone out would be too expensive to make it worth it. But Bilton thinks Facebook could drop a couple billion on an already established smartphone maker, like HTC or RIM, and release a Facebook dedicated Blackberry or HTC phone similar to Google's Nexus.