Facebook Phone Should Be Google Voice, Skype Rival

The Facebook phone rumor has pundits everywhere talking about the ramifications of such a move and its impact on Google and Apple. But what if Facebook created a soft phone instead?

Industry experts are torn on the idea that Facebook is building a social networking phone to compete with Google and Apple in the mobile Web.

TechCrunch ignited the blogosphere Sept. 20 when it reported the company was building a mobile operating system and other software to host on a handset made by hardware makers such as HTC or Motorola.

Google tried this approach with HTC. Google designed the Android software and other applications for the ill-fated Nexus One smartphone and failed trying to sell the device solely online.

Facebook denied that it is building a phone, providing a detailed explanation of how it provides applications and services that mesh well with devices, platforms and carriers.

Analysts polled by eWEEK offered different takes on the notion. Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said he couldn't see any reason why a Facebook phone makes sense, noting that INQ and 3 failed to gain traction with their attempts at a Facebook phone two years ago.

"Facebook is already one of the most popular and highly used applications across all smartphone platforms," Golvin told eWEEK.

"Those applications focus tens of millions of Facebook users at Facebook multiple times a day; why would a consumer want a Facebook-branded phone when their existing phone already connects them seamlessly to their social network?"

Ditto for Golvin's colleague at Forrester, Augie Ray, who said:

"Since the world is not asking for a Facebook phone and there is no compelling technical reason for Facebook to have its own phone, the question becomes whether or not the Facebook name on a phone would help sell phones and generate revenue."

"At this point, I see more compelling business opportunities for Facebook than launching their own mobile hardware."

Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang was somewhat more receptive to the idea. He noted that because Facebook's mission is to extend profile information and social connections across the Web, it makes sense for them to create a mobile OS where their various existing primary features, and third applications can be built on top of and spread.

"We'll know this is successful when consumers are able to dial their friends by using their Facebook address book," Owyang said. "Expect Facebook to develop a mobile operating system and other software connections--not focus on hardware as the first move."