Monday, November 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm.

Is the Facebook phone too late to matter?

Facebook still reportedly plans to launch a phone — but maybe not for another year. Here’s Liz Gannes and Ina Fried, reporting for All Things D:

Code-named “Buffy,” after the television vampire slayer, the phone is planned to run on a modified version of Android that Facebook has tweaked heavily to deeply integrate its services, as well as to support HTML5 as a platform for applications, according to sources familiar with the project.

Facebook only recently chose HTC, after also considering at least one other potential hardware partner — Korea’s Samsung. That means the products themselves are still a ways from hitting the market, potentially as long as 12 to 18 months.

It’s easy to see why Facebook is doing this: To become a mobile platform, and not just a product or app. But will it succeed?

The big questions now:

  • Why would any consumer buy a Facebook phone instead of an iPhone or Android device? (Or a Windows phone, or maybe an Amazon phone, or a BlackBerry, etc.) What, if anything, is actually desirable about a Facebook phone?
  • Will Facebook challenge any of today’s standard wireless business models? Can it negotiate to offer its device without a required voice plan? (Obviously, it will probably include Facebook messaging. How about free VoIP calls?)
  • Why would any app publisher develop for Facebook’s mobile platform instead of focusing on the big ones? Is there something about Facebook being “social” that would help developers make better apps or more money? (Perhaps.) Or will Facebook mostly host HTML5 web apps and simple games?
  • What effect will this have on the willingness for other companies — Apple, Microsoft, RIM, etc. — to integrate Facebook into their existing platforms?

It’s probably wrong to say Facebook is “too late” to the game when most people still don’t even have smartphones. But they’re definitely not early. This will have to be good to matter.

Also: Facebook buys ex-Apple guy’s HTML5 startup