In a plot worthy of one of campiest, long-running teen TV series ever, Facebook reportedly assembled a top-secret team of top talent to build a Facebook Phone.
What happened? The effort, initially code-named “Slayer,” a hybrid of “Social Layer, and renamed to the more cute and safe “Buffy,” FAILED the first time Facebook tried it.
That’s the great scoop from AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes. I’m thrilled for her because, after breaking the news Monday, she got slapped around by bloggers who scoffed that her piece lacked meaningful new intel.
Gannes noted Monday that the project involves a phone built by HTC 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.”
Gannes took flak for writing essentially most of what TechCrunch and others reported in the past couple of years, but she redeemed herself Tuesday with this post, which adds more intel.
For example, Gannes wrote:
“About a year and a half ago, a Facebook mobile special ops team was formed, with its own building separate from the rest of the company. The workspace was accessible by keycard only to people intimately involved in the effort. This Facebook team was indeed trying to build a phone – really build a phone — much as Apple did, with integrated hardware and software. But when the project became too big and too political and different from where it started, many of the people involved left the company or went on extended leaves of absence, and the effort was shelved.“
Who was on that team? Chamath Palihapitiya, who wen on to become a VC, Firefox founder and Facebook iPhone app creator Joe Hewitt, and Google Chrome Operating System creator Matt Papakipos, among others.
Apparently, the existence of this special group, which worked on industrial design, carrier subsidies and held talks with potential partners such as AT&T and Intel, created tension in the Facebook ranks.
You could make a joke about how many software developers it takes to build a phone — none, because these guys failed. That’s the real reason this didn’t take off: Not the right expertise.
Recall that Google also tapped HTC to build its Google Nexus One-branded Android phone. We all know how that turned out. Yet I can understand why Facebook would want to build its own phone platform.
Google’s failing was in thumbing its nose at carriers to sell the Nexus One by itself. How will Facebook market its phone, whose development is now being led by CTO Bret Taylor?
Facebook’s brand is big online, but I’m not sure it’s even quite Google big in the real world.
So how many people will buy a phone that’s just more integrated with the top social network? I access my Facebook data enough from my Android phone as it is, thank you.
One other issue to think about. Given that Microsoft extracts royalties from as many Android phone makers as it can, what will Facebook pay its partner for the pleasure of using the open source OS?
Finally, so much for all the speculation about Facebook buying webOS from HP. Clearly, that’s not happening.