Why a Facebook phone is doomed to be the next Zune

facebook-phone-mockup

In the list of bad ideas, the rumored “Facebook phone” (which will apparently be built by HTC and may fork the Android code base) is arguably one of the worst ideas since… well, the Zune. Let’s explore that today by looking at some of Microsoft’s own missteps with the ill-fated PMP, and where Facebook and HTC seem to be repeating them.

Zune

To recap the history of the Zune, Microsoft made three massively strategic mistakes over the last three decades. The first mistake Microsoft made was to build the Zune MP3 player. The company started off in media players by helping create the “Plays for Sure” platform with hardware partners like SanDisk and Samsung. One of the things partners are often afraid of in this situation is the platform creator becoming too powerful and effectively replacing them altogether, which is effectively what Microsoft did by creating the Zune MP3 player. In effect, (though I doubt it thought this through at the time), Microsoft could have helped lay the groundwork for Android. The other two similar mistakes were the original Xbox and the Kin phone, in my opinion.

You never want to put yourself at odds with your key revenue source and sow seeds of distrust, but the Zune did that with partners. It was also a colossal failure at the same time, which upset retailers and made them lose their trust in Microsoft.

microsoft-kin-phones

How did Microsoft arrive at the decision to make the Zune? By looking out at the “Plays for Sure” partners and concluding they were all idiots because not a single one had come up with anything as popular as the Apple iPod. Yet the Zune failed massively, suggesting a good chunk of the reason for that was not (as Microsoft assumed) the partners’ fault, but Microsoft’s own lack of resources to the effort.

Arguably, the Zune is one of the most expensive failures that Microsoft has ever had, all because it betrayed its partners and then under-resourced the effort. What a waste.

Facebook Phone

Facebook isn’t in Microsoft’s business, so its mistake isn’t identical, but it’s also massively counter-strategic (in this case more for HTC than for Facebook). You see, HTC is on the other side of the Zune problem. Just as Microsoft lost trust from its hardware partners, an OEM like HTC stepping out against their software partner should have the same kind of collateral damage.

In this case, HTC has strong relationships with both Google for Android and Microsoft for Windows Phone 7. One of the key standout features for Windows Phone 7 is social networking and in particular, Facebook integration (Facebook and Microsoft are partnered). Google, on the other hand, is at war with Facebook with Google+, and monetizes Android after-the-fact with services like Google+. On paper, Android’s connection to Google services is what makes it works. (I could argue that economically this actually doesn’t work, because by competing with Apple and Microsoft, Google lost more than they gained… but we’ll save that for another time.)

htc-chachaSo, HTC taking Android and possibly forking it (effectively denying Google at least some of the revenue and breaking the hard connection to Google+) would really upset Google. Meanwhile, taking Android to build a Facebook phone rather than a Windows Phone 7 would really upset Microsoft. In effect, both Microsoft and Google could put HTC in the doghouse at once, making the other phone makers really happy. Samsung, the company that has never met an OS it didn’t like, is thinking of doing one of these as well, which should alone, be a red flag for everyone else.

Then we look at Facebook. Is it really going to be able to promote a piece of hardware? Does it really want to go to war with Apple and every other device manufacturer? Right now Apple, Microsoft and others spend lots of time on Facebook, but they aren’t likely to continue if they view Facebook as a potential competitor.

Facebook should be focused on building the best Facebook app for every major platform. Going into competition with these platforms and phone providers could alone turn them into the next Netscape. This may partially explain why Microsoft is thinking of building its own social network all of a sudden.

Opportunity cost and collateral damage

What the hell goes through executives’ minds when they make mistakes like the Zune, Kin, and this foolish Facebook phone?

They’re dreaming of the upside of being the next Apple, without considering the collateral damage and opportunity cost that is more likely to make them the next Netscape. The reason for this is that they apparently are hardwired to fail. This post suggests that decisions like this come out of a need to assure status at all costs. Sounds whacked, until you read the post. But for me, I think a Facebook phone is just plain stupid.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

The HTC U12 Life is a midrange contender, but it’s no champion

The HTC U12 Life is a midrange smartphone with a large 6-inch screen, plenty of battery life, and a dual lens camera, but it bears little relation to its bigger sibling. Find out if it’s worth considering in our HTC U12 Life review.
Mobile

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, Note 9 set to receive Android 9.0 Pie in January

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Mobile

These 100 best iPhone apps will turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world, and we want to bring out the best in yours. Behold our comprehensive list of the best iPhone apps, from time-saving productivity tools to fun apps you won’t be able to put down.
Computing

Our favorite Windows apps will help you get the most out of your new PC

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks.
Social Media

Twitter boss hints that an edit button for tweets may finally be on its way

Twitter has been talking for years about launching an edit button for tweets, but it still hasn't landed. This week, company boss Jack Dorsey addressed the matter again, describing a quick-edit button as "achievable."
Mobile

Lyft’s new rewards program promises ride discounts and comfier cars

If you're always hopping in and out of a Lyft car, then you'll be pleased to hear that the ridesharing service is about to launch a rewards program. Perks include discounts on future trips and upgrades to comfier cars.
Mobile

The world’s first smartglasses showrooms open in Brooklyn and Toronto

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in October, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto.
Deals

Here are the best Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa deals for Black Friday

Apple products are the most sought-after products for Black Friday, the leaked preview ads show what discounts retailers will have for the Apple Watch Series 3 and other smartwatches, such as the Fitbit Versa, this holiday season.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.
Mobile

Master your new Nokia 7.1 with our favorite tips and tricks

At $350, the Nokia 7.1 is a nearly perfect budget phone. It has a gorgeous body, good hardware, and a capable camera. Recently purchased the Nokia 7.1? Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks to get you started with your new phone.
Photography

Get up close and personal with this telephoto lens for your phone

Moment is replacing its aging 60mm telephoto lens with a new 58mm tele lens, redesigned from the ground up for the latest iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy phones. Mount it onto the phone via a case and get closer with 2x optical zoom.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10 could nix the notch in favor of a "punch hole" cutout

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.