Zuckerberg talks possible Facebook phone

Earlier this week, the blogosphere nearly exploded when the the words “Facebook phone” first hit the internet, and suggested that the social networking giant was developing its own Facebook-branded phone. Facebook quickly denied the rumors that it was planning any hardware releases, or even a branded phone, and instead was looking at ways to more closely integrate social media using existing technology.  Whether this turns out to be Zuckerberg splitting hairs on what a Facebook phone is, or whether it is simply an example of the media running with a story of a potential idea remains to be seen.

In an interview with TechCrunch today, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke with the website and cleared the air on Facebook’s future plans for the smartphone market, and what they mean by the “Facebook phone”.

“At the end of the day, when people say ‘building a phone’ they actually can mean very different things. Internally, the way we talk about our strategy, it’s like the opposite of that. Our whole strategy is not to build any specific device or integration or anything like that. Because we’re not trying to compete with Apple or the Droid or any other hardware manufacturer for that matter.” Zuckerberg said.

Rather than building a phone, Facebook is currently working on ways to expand the social networking experience to include most aspects of a user’s experience online.  Currently, on the PC, that would need a specific browser, and possibly a customized operating system to truly integrate everything. The same problems do not exist in the mobile world, and a more in-depth integration may be possible through Facebook.

“Take Instant Personalization. Our goal is to make it so there’s as little friction as possible to having a social experience. So you go to some apps, take Rotten Tomatoes, which we just launched last week. If people had to click this blue button to Connect, then some percent of them would, but it would be the minority because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get before you click it.If you had to put up some modal dialog then that would be crazy from a UX perspective. But the fact that they can do that instant integration for the users that want it means that everyone has a good experience as soon as they get there.

“On phones we can actually do something better. We can do a single sign-on if we do a good integration with a phone, rather than just doing something where you go to an app and it’s automatically social or having to sign into each app individually.” Zuckerberg told TechCrunch. “Those are the two options on the web. Why not for mobile? Just make it so that you log into your phone once, and then everything that you do on your phone is social.”

It is an interesting look at the plans Facebook has for its continued expansion. As for the Facebook-branded phone that CNET and others claimed was in development, Zuckerberg denied that anything of the sort was on the way, and instead simply claimed that Facebook would continue to work as a cross-platform software, and that the branding of Facebook on existing and upcoming phones was more a result of the phone manufacturers using the Facebook name for marketing purposes. Despite his claims, CNET is reporting that Facebook has contacted hardware manufacturers to discuss creating a phone, likely an Android-based device modified by Facebook to include a heavier social integration.

“Our goal is to make it so that we can design the best integrations in the widest variety of phones.

“One thing that I think is really important — that I think is context for this, is that I generally think that most other companies now are undervaluing how important social integration is. So even the companies that are starting to come around to thinking, ‘oh maybe we should do some social stuff’, I still think a lot of them are only thinking about it on a surface layer, where it’s like “OK, I have my product, maybe I’ll add two or three social features and we’ll check that box”. That’s not what social is.

“Social – you have to design it in from the ground up. These experiences, like what Zynga is doing or what a company like Quora is doing, I think that they have just a really good social integration. They’ve designed their whole product around the idea that your friends will be here with you. Everyone has a real identity for themselves. And those are fundamental building blocks. Now, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get the mobile environments that you see today to a state where you can build really robust social applications on top of it. So that’s the biggest driving force for us — to try to work with these folks and see how deep we can get on our own to make sure that we can build that plumbing. Our goal is to make it exist.”

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