Opinion Brief

Is Facebook building an iPhone rival?

The social networking giant may working on a smartphone, say reports. How believable are they?

The tech world was abuzz with rumors this weekend that Facebook is developing an iPhone-style smartphone. But Facebook has denied the reports, saying it is merely pursuing a "deep integration" of the site's services on existing smartphone platforms. "People want to call it a 'Facebook phone' because that's such an attractive soundbite," a spokesperson told The New York Times, "but building phones is just not what we do." TechCrunch, the tech news site that broke the story, stands by its reporting. Will we be able to buy Facebook smartphones someday?

It would be a savvy move: Building its own operating system makes sense for a multi-platform service like Facebook, says Chris Foresman at Ars Technica. And on a business level it makes sense, too. The Facebook brand has a "very high visibility right now, especially with younger consumers." With smartphones as popular as they've ever been, "now would be as good a time as any for Facebook to make a move in this space."  "Facebook denies phone rumors, but possibility still exists."

But who would buy a Facebook phone? People buy cellphones to make a "statement", says John C. Abell at Wired. Does Facebook really think young consumers will "pass on an iPhone" to buy a "branded handset" from a social networking site they sometimes use? Unless Facebook has something else up its sleeve, "they should be asking themselves what we're asking: Who needs it?" "Is Facebook planning a phone? Who knows. Should they? No."

Sounds a bit too much like the Android: It's unclear how a Facebook phone would "differ from what currently exists on [Google's] Android platform," says David Murphy at PC Magazine, which already allows you to synchronize your Facebook contacts and events with its operating system. Until we know more than "ruminations" on what a Facebook phone would possibly be, it's difficult to make an assessment."Facebook looks to rival Google's Android OS to power top-secret phone"

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