If Facebook Really Is Building a Mobile Phone, It Needs to Focus on These Three Things
By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Word on the street is that Facebook has reunited its mobile team for the third time to build its own mobile handset. In fact, put the rumors aside, if you have been watching the company over the past few months, it should be pretty obvious to you.
As Jay Yarow points out, Facebook is slowly completing the puzzle of pieces needed to create a mobile OS. It has messaging, a camera, contacts, email, an app store, and if there are any basis to the latest rumors, Facebook will have its own mobile browser soon enough.
Putting aside the thought of Zuckerberg taking on Apple and Google, does this really make sense from a strategic standpoint? The answer is maybe. The mobile game of iOS, Android, and Windows Phone is far from over. Each one of those players lacks multiple characteristics needed to sustain a respectable market share long-term. If Facebook wants to enter this game, the company has to fill those gaps and offer something no one else does.
No one needs another platform that is just more of the same. What the market needs is a breath of fresh air and it needs to start with developers.
Facebook knows a thing or two about building a sustainable ecosystem, but when it comes to mobile, it seems The Zuck is fairly clueless. The smart thing to do would be to take a good look at the competition and build the Facebook phone from the ground up. Here are a few points of focus for Facebook if they really do intend on entering the mobile market, including both software and hardware:
If there is one problem that developers face in the mobile world, it is a solid monetization option. Of course, app discovery is a part of this as well. No discovery, no downloads. No downloads, no monetization. Facebook knows the problem all too well, but when it comes to mobile, the problem is magnified ten times as compared to the Web. Here is the thing with a successful mobile ecosystem… It needs developers. A lot of them! Here is the thing with getting developers to adopt a platform. It needs to include the ability to generate revenue.
iOS, Windows Phone, and especially Android all suffer from this problem and if Facebook could solve it, even slightly, it stands a real chance of making a dent in the mobile market. The important thing for Facebook at this point is, put the hardware project aside for a second and focus on how you intend on recruiting developers by the hundreds of thousands.
Since we are on the topic of developers, let’s not forget one of the biggest frustrations associated with developing iOS apps. There is nothing more infuriating then working on an app for months, submitting it to Apple, and getting it rejected. Well, there is one thing more annoying. Getting it rejected for no justified reason.
Of course, the flip side of that is Android. Developers might love the simple app submission process. Consumers, on the other hand, have to deal with the mess that is Google Play. Is it really so complicated to have normal policies in place regarding what apps get approved and what get rejected? If Facebook can balance the need to submit apps and get them approved and the need to keep a minimal standard in its store, it might be onto something huge.
User Experience, Ever Hear of It?
Last, but far from least, the most important thing Facebook needs to work on if it really wants to enter the competitive mobile space, is user experience. Yes, Facebook has 900 million users, and yes, those users are super engaged, but when it comes to the user experience of Facebook both on the Web, and especially on mobile, well, how do I put this nicely? It is the worst thing on the face of the earth.
Frequent UI changes, an app that is just as unresponsive on almost all platforms, and settings that you need to be a rocket scientist to understand. What did someone tweet the other day? “Why did Facebook go public? Because even Facebook could not understand the privacy settings”.
If there is one thing Apple has going for it that even the biggest hater cannot take away, it is simplicity. Maybe over simplicity, maybe not, but people like simple things and Facebook needs to internalize that like yesterday.
@HilzFuld There’s no chance of success in mobile by building a phone. Utter madness.
— Matt Baxter-Reynolds (@mbrit) May 28, 2012
What Might Work for the Web…
In conclusion, I have yet to come across one person involved in the mobile industry that thinks Facebook can pull this off. The reason that is, is because Zuckerberg has a track record that points to the fact that he will fail on every one of the points mentioned above.
If Facebook wants to succeed in mobile, which is a totally different ball game than the Web, the first thing it needs to do is let someone new lead the way. Zuckerberg is brilliant, no question, but to compete against players like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the hoodie has to go. Mobile is serious business.
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