Facebook’s got a new phone. And a new home screen. It’s going to be fine, probably, more or less. But you are also asleep now because the idea of a Facebook phone bores you, deeply. Maybe it shouldn’t. In a perfect world, there’s a compelling case for a true blue Facebook phone.
It’s the Messaging
We take for granted a lot of messaging capabilities of our phones. “It sends texts” is basically good enough for most of us. And we’re never really going to be able to leave SMS behind. It’s too ingrained. Facebook, though, has looked like our best way out, with both its ubiquity and its strong first-party apps on iOS and Android.
Facebook messaging with true, OS-level integration could combine the best parts of literally every messaging service out there. Pulling your SMS texts into a centralized keep-all chat and message hub would be huge. Facebook chat could literally be iMessage, except accessible to everyone, on every platform. On vanilla Android builds and iOS, Facebook could go on being its same old well integrated self. But the catch is, a new Facebook phone/OS would be able to talk to those iPhones and Androids in a way other new platforms (think Windows Phone) simply can’t.
A lot of this functionality (most of it short of the SMS slurping) is already possible, sure. But being baked into the core of an OS is a big deal. There’s a reason why third party services like WhatsApp, as popular as they might grow to be, are not going to displace the major players in messaging. Being right there built into the phone means people could use Facebook messaging without even having to think about it.
VOIP VOIP VOIP
It gets even more interesting when you bring in calling. For all the reasons messaging would be made easier, so would calling. Consolidated contacts, no need for phone numbers, the works. But calling adds another wrinkle: International rates don’t apply. Voice chat is already built right into Facebook Messenger. There are plenty other services that offer it as well, sure, but Facebook’s contact directory would be pulled right from your profile. No accounts to set up, no logins to remember.
Windows Phone has integrated Skype contacts into main contact cards, but this is a step further. You’re always signed on to Facebook — especially if your phone is based on it.
Facebook is the largest photo service on the planet. So it makes sense that a major part of a true take on a Facebook phone would have strong photo presence. Its Facebook Camera app is already surprisingly good (even now that it’s mostly integrated into the main app), but some OS-wide services like automatic, private uploads (a mainstay on Windows Phone and with third party services like Dropbox) would be pretty swell.
Also remember, Facebook owns Instagram! So with features like the lovely full-screen photos we’ve seen leaked, and presumed deep integration of Instagram — not available on any other OS currently — a Facebook phone could be a compelling thing for people who love taking pictures with their phones.
Just so long as the camera doesn’t stink. (The camera will probably stink.)
A widely adopted Facebook phone would be a simple, easy-to-use way to get folks to use two-factor authentication. One of the big reasons people don’t use two-factor (beyond not knowing what the hell it is) seems to be a resistance to being sent somewhere else to secure the thing you’re using.
Funnelling all that into a phone directly associated with Facebook would help. As would centralising security features into the Facebook page. Imagine Find My iPhone, right on your Facebook profile.
The sceptic would rightly point out, “HAHA FACEBOOK AND YOUR SECURITY”. Yes, very. But remember that while Facebook’s definitely had its share of security issues, most of its screw ups have been with user privacy, which is decidedly different. And also, these are perfect world scenarios, so we can dream!
A Neutral Gathering Place
Facebook is not an OS. It is not an ecosystem, exactly. Distilled, it’s basically just a website with a bunch of features, where a bunch of people have profiles. And ironically, that’s a huge advantage for it right now.
Here’s the thing about the major mobile competitors, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, hell, throw BlackBerry in there: they won’t talk to each other. Yes, Google products are on iOS, and are getting pretty good, actually. But beyond that, all of the integration across desktop and mobile is trapped within tightly guarded ecosystems. Facebook, if it wanted, could affect phones beyond its own in ways that Apple and Google and Microsoft can’t.
Chat and VOIP are the obvious use cases. But true cross-platform compatibility has potential well beyond those. And Facebook’s in the best position of anyone to take advantage.
Back to Reality
But you probably won’t see very much of this in today’s Facebook Phone! Judging from every leak and rumour floating around, the phone is more of a placeholder, meant to stick Facebook’s name on some acceptably decent (but deeply lacklustre) piece of hardware. Make it affordable, and enough people will just see the name Facebook and gravitate toward their faded blue opium pipe. The launcher Facebook is expected to roll out is probably meant to be a broad reach across all of Android.
It’s also probably well short of what would make a Facebook phone truly useful. But the pieces are in place for something special someday.