Facebook Denies Building Phone to Challenge Google, Apple

To challenge Google and Apple for the mobile Web, Facebook is building a branded smartphone with deep integration into the handset's contacts list, TechCrunch said.

Facebook is allegedly building a branded smartphone with deep integration into the handset's contacts list, a move to give the company a horse in the mobile Web race versus Google and Apple.

That's the latest hot report from TechCrunch, which noted that Facebook is building the software for the phone and outsourcing a hardware maker to build the device itself.

The blog also reported that high-level Facebook programmers Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos are secretly working on the project. Both have experience building Web operating systems.

Hewitt was building a Web OS for Parakey before Facebook acquired his firm, the company's first acquisition. Hewitt went on to build the company's iPhone applications. Papakipos helped develop Google's Chrome Operating System, expected to appear on netbooks this fall.

Meanwhile, Business Insider fueled the fire by noting that the phone is based on Google's open-source Android operating system. Erick Tseng, a senior product manager for Android, joined Facebook in May.

Facebook did not return eWEEK's request for comment, but told Reuters, Mashable and other tech media publications it is not building a phone.

However, rather than a standard denial, or no comment, the company issued a detailed statement that left room for surmising and loose interpretation. According to Mashable, Facebook spokesperson Jamie Schopflin said:

"The story, which originated in TechCrunch, is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone. Our approach has always been to make phones and apps more social. Current projects include everything from an HTML5 version of the site to apps on major platforms to full Connect support with SDKs to deeper integrations with some manufacturers."

Schopflin further pointed to Facebook Connect for iPhone, which allows users to log onto third-party Websites, and the integration the company has with contact syncing through its iPhone app.

"The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a Facebook Phone because that's such an attractive sound bite, but building phones is just not what we do."

However, as many in the tech press have already noted, Google also denied it was building a phone.

While this was true in the hardware sense-it never put chips, transmitters and other components in a small enclosure to sell-it did build a massively popular mobile operating system in Android and marketed the Google Nexus One smartphone with its preferred software.

That didn't work out so well, but the potential to create its own mobile platform and make it portable is practically imperative for Facebook if it wants to be a major player on the next big Web growth front.

As users increasingly conduct more of their computing away from their desktop, on smartphones and tablet computers, the mobile Web is becoming a crucial, fertile battleground for hardware, software and apps.

That extends to ads that can run on those pieces to help free software providers such as Facebook and Google make money.

Facebook has the network of 500 million-plus users, some 100 million of which use Facebook from the iPhone, Android gadgets and other handsets.

By leveraging its contacts and connections and strong brand, Facebook could build a platform that protects its social network data even as it tightly integrates with other apps.