Is Facebook Secretly Building a Phone?

A mockup of the potential Facebook Phone.

A mockup of the potential Facebook Phone.

A Facebook-branded phone, similar to the Google phone that came out last year? That's the rumor of the day.

Insider sources have tipped off Techcrunch editor Michael Arrington to the possibility that the social networking giant might be working on a legitimate piece of hardware themed around its massive community-driven service, a report indicates.

A report from CNET added weight to the rumor, stating that hardware manufacturers confirmed that the social-networking company had reached out to them. However, a spokesman for Facebook immediately denied the rumors. 

"The story is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone," Jaime Schopflin said. 

The reports suggest that the actual hardware of the phone is being developed by a third-party manufacturer, with Facebook itself working on the underlying customizations to the Android operating system that said phone will be running.

According to Arrington, Facebook was jealous of Google's Nexus One upon its launch. To best integrate its own services into a phone, Facebook realized that it needs to push beyond its typical application-based offerings and directly tie its services into the core of the operating system. That means a contact list that's essentially a Facebook friends list, a calendar that's based on Facebook events, et cetera.

It's unclear just how this treatment would differ from what currently exists on the Android platform, however -- after all, it's not unheard of for phones to synchronize all of these elements with Facebook's current offerings. Perhaps everything would be directly hard-coded to the site's offerings, in that one's "photos" would jump to a synchronized version of Facebook's, or one's location could be updated via Facebook Places with the touch of a single button.

All ruminations, but if Arrington is correct, the sky's the limit for what Facebook could potentially stick in its rumored "affordable" phone -- which could sell for around $50, he speculated.

And it's not as if Facebook lacks the talent to completely reconfigure rival Google's open-source operating system to its own purposes. Arrington claims that both Joe Hewitt -- creator of Facebook's Web and iPhone-based apps  -- and Matthew Papakipos -- former Google Chrome OS project lead until he left the company for Facebook in June -- are teaming up to spearhead the Facebook Phone initiative.

Nevertheless, if true, Facebook's rumored phone development would tie in nicely with the company's latest attempts to push into the mobile space. Or, to borrow a quote from Facebook head of mobile products Erick Tseng from this year's MobileBeat 2010 conference, "We really see mobile as the future."

Who would have ever thought he could have been subtly talking about hardware, rather than Facebook's 150 million-plus mobile user base?

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