News is already buzzing about the new Facebook smartphone which is rumoured to be making a release, sooner rather than later. While it’s generating a lot of interest, the big question is, will it sell? I predict, probably not, and for some very fundamental reasons.
The first reason being; Facebook has had phones before! It’s easy to forget that several handsets have added the Facebook name, from HTC to Vodafone who have brought out Facebook phones, but generally failed to sell. The main reason being that the handsets were generally poor, barely deserving the ‘smartphone’ name and badly marketed overall.
Perhaps, a more fundamental flaw isn’t bad marketing, or poor design; it’s Facebook itself. Facebook may be the world’s most popular social network, however that can’t translate into other, much more diverse market. There are two big problems with the launch of the Facebook phone, the first being that people like to diversify their devices – with Android, Nokia and iOS all running the Facebook app, there’s little consumer need for the Facebook Phone. Secondly, the market place is a far more competitive one than the social media market. Facebook can be easily swallowed up after having made such a large jump from one market to another, without dominating anything in between as Google have done.
People now expect a strong user experience from their handsets, something that Facebook has largely failed to deliver. With an app history that is best described as problematic and a desktop interface, which has changed several times in recent history, it all spells a poorly designed and lacking handset. Both Android and iOS have spent years perfecting their handsets, both with experience of some kind of OS or similar environment before. With such a heavily established eco-system, nothing short of the perfect OS will do.
At the end of the day, it can even boil down to people not wanting to be dominated by one brand. A monopoly is a bad thing for both business and consumers, and people tend to begin drifting when a company gets too big. Microsoft have seen it, and Google may see it. Monopolies stifle innovation and competition. More than that, they also reduce a consumer’s choice, which the end consumer isn’t a big fan of. A Facebook phone could be that step too far for the social network. Why have a Facebook phone when you can have your choice of another, with the app?
It’s been suggested that Facebook have been busy hiring hardware developers, especially from Apple, but without the vision and experience of strong smartphone design, the handset may fall flat on its face. Given Facebook’s history in mobile, might not be surprising.
In saying this, the Facebook phone may surprise and sell. The brand awareness is certainly there, and the consumer base. I however, don’t believe this will translate. There will be a few sales, but overall the Facebook phone won’t give Apple, Google, HTC or Nokia any sleepless nights.