The Silicon Valley is abuzz this week with speculation that Facebook is going to unveil a much-rumoured ‘Facebook Phone’ after it sent invitations for a media event that simply said “Come see our new home on Android.”
America’s technology blogs do some incredible snooping ahead of such events, and indications are that Facebook will unveil a new phone, possibly made by HTC. Now, why would it do so? One blog says that its software will be configured to make the Facebook experience easier and richer. While speculation is rife on what it is, with not as much excitement in the US on what it could do, my focus is actually on Facebook’s Messenger application. Given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s focus on Asia, especially India, the Messenger may go really far.
Facebook already has about 65 million Facebook users in India — roughly half the broadband population. With about 900 million mobile connections in the country, the emergence of cheap smart feature phones with dedicated Facebook apps is only going to dramatically increase the Facebook user population. If — and this is my guess — there is a cheaper Android phone that is specially Facebook friendly, this could boost the revolution further.
The bottomline is that Facebook is in effect becoming a standard for social connectivity — the way Windows became a standard platform for desktop computing for at least two decades.
This has significant implications. As Ewan Spence says at Forbes.com: “There is one group that should be worried about the disruption Facebook’s mobile play will have on their business. That group is the mobile phone network operators.”
The reason is that paid text messages (SMSes) will be replaced by Facebook messages. All you need is a data plan. Last year, Facebook allowed Android users to create a Messenger account with just a name and phone number to reach out to mobile contacts.
If Facebook Phone happens as a cheaper, easier device, with voice/video to boot, and as Messenger connects up wider, both SMS and Skype (used to make cheap international calls) could be hit. BlackBerry Messenger and apps such as WhatsApp that connect phone users across platforms may also suffer.
My guess is that rather than take on telecom service providers, Facebook will go for partnerships with them so that they will make money on data plans.