Is Facebook planning to make its own smartphone?

20 Sep 2010

Facebook, the social networking giant that will owe much of its future to wireless communications and mobility, is understood to be working on its own smartphone and is working with a third party to build the device. It is also planning to change how people approve friend requests.

A number of reports over the weekend pointed to a flurry of R&D activity at Facebook that could spell momentous change for the social networking giant, which has 500 million users worldwide.

According to a report on TechCrunch, Facebook is building software for the rumoured smartphone and is working with a third party to build the device.

Facebook is aware that despite the popularity of its apps on the iPhone and the Google Android device families, the popularity of these operating systems poses a long-term competitive threat.

Facebook is particularly keen to see it integrates deeply into users’ contact lists and other features, such as camera and video conferencing, but can only do so if it controls the operating system.

According to TechCrunch, two high-level Facebook employees – John Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos – are secretly working on the project. Hewitt built the Firefox browser and worked on Parakey, which was bought by Facebook, and has built many of Facebook’s native and iPhone apps. Before joining Facebook Papakipos worked at Google on the Chrome OS project.

Facebook would be advised to learn from the Google Nexus One experiment. Google decided to build its own smartphone but the project flopped. However, that hasn’t dented the success of its Android operating system, which is on its way to becoming the No 2 operating system for smartphones worldwide.

Holding pattern for friend requests

In related news, Facebook is also understood to be changing how users process their friend requests by creating a new set of features that allow users to put friend requests they are not sure about into a sort of holding pattern.

One new feature ‘Not Now’ apparently will replace the ‘Ignore’ button for all members and will be rolling this out to all members in the coming days.

In doing so, Facebook might have sparked upon a critical flaw that could belie its attempts to build the world’s social graph. Hitting ‘Ignore’ on a friend request is a pretty permanent thing to do and could stunt the creation of a comprehensive network of people connected to one another. At least ‘Not Now’ could give the user time to ponder their action.

This will result in the creation of an ‘Awaiting Friend Confirmation’ list that users can browse to confirm at their leisure. Users will be able to return to a ‘Hidden Requests’ list to revisit all requests marked ‘Not Now’.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years