Facebook Phone concept (credit: Yanko Design)
Time and again, a rumored Facebook phone is leaked, although these turn out to be a dud — or sometimes these just turn out to be smartphones released with Facebook functionalities integrated. But we need not be messianic about the Facebook phone. If you're reading this article on a mobile device right now, chances are your smartphone may already be the Facebook phone we've been waiting for.
Apps vs the Web
Consider the radical shift in how users consume content online. While we used to think of the Web and the Internet as synonymous, the reality is that the Web is just another layer through which we use the Internet. Today, apps rule the game, and these apps interact with the Internet — and with each other — in ways that are increasingly ingrained into our lives.
Take Instagram, for example. The app quickly grew its userbase, even with a very minimal web presence. The startup was purely a mobile app, and it didn't even release an Android app until a few months into its existence. As The Verge puts it, Facebook's billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram means the company understands the game-changing nature of apps. Case in point: Instagram has recently overtaken Twitter in terms of daily active users.
We're no longer putting highlight on the Web as a means of accessing content. Our devices themselves are the platform through which we share, consume and connect. And a big number of mobile users, Facebook is at the center of it all.
Think of it this way. You may already be enjoying messaging, chatting, emailing and posting social network updates on your mobile phone. The “layer” that is the Web disappears, then. Content passes through online channels, although we consume these through apps. But what's clear at this point is that there are other channels that are increasingly becoming dominant. One of these is Facebook.
The very concept of the supposed Facebook phone revolves around the idea that all services on the phone will rely on Facebook connectivity. Right now, your Android phone might dependson Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Search and a host of Google-provided services. However, apps are increasingly using Facebook as a means to connect.
Application developers are already taking note of the potential of Facebook as the dominant platform. According to Facebook's director of developer products Doug Purdy, eight out of ten top-grossing apps on the iOS platform use Facebook in one way or another. This may be to authenticate, to share social streams or for content discovery.
But going beyond authentication and connectivity, application development at this time is taking Facebook to a whole new level. Purdy says Facebook's focus with developer relations is to push the social network as a platform. “I think our biggest design tenet that we have at Facebook is just get out of the way and [...] let apps help users tell great stories,” he says.
Facebook as a platform
Facebook's open graph integration is intended to be “frictionless,” where apps update one's timeline and profile with information, so that friends can enjoy discovery through these social feeds using other mobile apps. Dieter Bohn's analysis on The Verge believes Facebook may have an even deeper understanding of users in mobile ecosystems than either Apple or Google themselves do. What if majority of mobile apps connect using Facebook in one way? This, combined with the knowledge that Facebook gleans from your user profile and social streams, puts a considerable level of power in Facebook's hands.
So what will the Facebook phone be, then? It will be any smartphone — or even any feature phone that somehow runs apps — that uses the social network as a platform for authentication, connectivity and social discovery with Facebook itself getting out of the way. With app developers increasingly moving toward this model, pretty soon all our phones will become the proverbial Facebook phone. Depending on the apps that you use, your phone might already be one.