Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

A Facebook phone would be bad news for shareholders

All of this talk about Facebook needing to position itself as the main app on a platform – it just sounds like one big distraction. If it holds its place as the go-to social network, everything else takes care of itself. Its icon will live on the first screen of iPhones and other smartphones, snuffing out the competition. A Facebook icon is shown on a Samsung Galaxy III mobile phone in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, January 30, 2013.

MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

This week all signs point to Facebook doing something with a smartphone. On Thursday, we'll find out if the popular rumours come true – a tweaked-out version of Google's Android mobile operating system running on an HTC device. As I wrote in early January prior to Facebook's last big announcement:

Zuckerberg already shot down the smartphone plans. For all intents and purposes, he called it a stupid move because that's exactly what it is . . . Nobody will buy a Facebook phone because a bunch of really good ones already exist, particularly Apple's iPhone. Th(e) Facebook app probably owns first-page space on every smartphone in America . . . Zuckerberg operates a very different ecosystem than the one [Jeff] Bezos runs at Amazon.com. Hardware should never – under any circumstance I can think of – enter the social equation. Let other companies take on that burden at no cost to Facebook.

That's exactly what Facebook might be doing. Zuckerberg said his company would not make a phone. HTC builds the phone, Facebook powers the Facebook-centric platform.

Story continues below advertisement

Still a bad idea. Or at least a needless one.

No matter who actually produces the phone, I don't see the benefit of Facebook making itself the focus on a smartphone nobody, relatively speaking, will buy, especially when the social network tends to dominate space on the smartphones that actually get sold. It's not like you can't, with the push of a button or three, completely integrate Facebook into your present device. Millions of people do 24/7, 365.

Eavesdrop on the next 10 people you see scrolling through something on their phone. I run this experiment all the time. Almost invariably, more than half of the unknowing subjects happen to be running Facebook. Quite a few have Instagram, which I assume would be co-featured on a Facebook-centric phone, open, keeping it in the FB family.

All of this talk about Facebook needing to position itself as the main app on a platform – it just sounds like one big distraction. Facebook's sole focus should be providing the best user experience it can via its present, always-evolving platform.

If it holds its place as the go-to social network, everything else takes care of itself. Its icon will live on the first screen of iPhones and other smartphones, snuffing out the competition.

Focus. Don't lose it. This is an instance where Sheryl Sandberg needs to reel Zuckerberg in. The smartphone idea, in and of itself, will not hurt Facebook; however an unintended consequence could be a loss of focus. That's the worrisome part.

Focus. It's the reason why I stay, by and large, confident about Pandora's long-term prospects despite all the noise. I'm fairly certain that a focused management team has the reins. It doesn't need a Pandora-centric consumer device to maintain its massive Internet radio lead and continued disruption of terrestrial radio. It just needs to keep providing the best radio experience available.

Story continues below advertisement

That's how Zuck should direct 100 per cent of Facebook's tangible and intangible resources – hyper-focused on providing the best social experience there is.

READERS: Is there a big enough market for a Facebook phone to risk "losing focus"?

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨