SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- A UK cell phone carrier called 3 plans to launch a Facebook-optimized phone, according to a teaser page on the 3 Web site. Is this "Facebook Phone" part of a trend toward Web service-specific cell phones? I hope so.
The teaser site says this new phone (which hits November 13), "will change the way you use Facebook on your phone." That means it will probably have a special Facebook app, plus one-click uploading of photos to Facebook. It may even have Facebook branding.
That this kind of single-service optimization is a trend may sound unlikely to you, but hear me out. What happens when cell phones get commoditized to the point where they have no value other than to get you to use services of real value -- which is the network and the services that you can access via that network?
Hard to believe, but cell phones once cost thousands of dollars each. Now the average price for a cell phone is well under $100. Two or three years from now, it'll probably drop to below $30. And when it drops that low, somebody else is going to pay for it. It could be your carrier -- or a specific service, such as Facebook, which will likely have a business plan by then that involves advertising and partnership deals we cannot now foresee.
The first and mother-of-all Web site cell phones is the "Google Phone," which isn't really a phone but a platform, called Android, for building Web-optimized cell phones. Of course, Android phones tend to favor Web services offered by Google.
The LG KU990, better known as the "YouTube Phone," is of course optimized for shooting, uploading and viewing YouTube videos.
And 3, the same carrier launching the Facebook phone, previously unveiled a Skype Phone.
I wrote recently in this space that, increasingly, phones would be produced by gadget makers that create theme phones related to their normal kinds of gadgets. I speculated about an Oakley Sunglasses Phone, Garmin Forerunner Sports Watch Phone, Amazon Kindle Phone, ASUS Eee PC Phone and Apple iPod Nano Phone. So what phones could be created to take advantage of the Web service phone?
Digg Phone. Wouldn't it be cool to have a "Digg This" button on the front of my phone that posted whatever news story, picture or video my browser happens to be looking at? I'd also love my Digg Phone to auto-update new Page One stories, alert me to Shouts and tell me about Digg Dialogg events.
Twitter Phone. I'd like to see a phone optimized for Twitter that beeped when I got a direct message or a reply. It could also feature icons associated with custom applications that use Twitter for things like News Alerts, Package Tracking and other things Twitter already does. It should also optimize the camera for one-button uploading and linking from Tweets.
ESPN Phone. Technically, an ESPN phone already shipped two and a half years ago. The Sanyo VMP handset was slapped with ESPN logo and had an ESPN application in it. That won't cut it in the new world of service phones. A real ESPN phone should have two additions. First, a second, low-power screen on the outside of the clamshell would pump real-time scores, and optionally beep each time a new score came in. Best of all, it would use GPS, plus ESPN game schedules to gain awareness of which game you're attending. It could pre-label all photo uploads and text messages to tell that you're at the game and add other real-time info, such as the score. It's hard to type when you're drinking beer.
Flickr Phone. Wouldn't it be great if all your cell phone pictures were automatically uploaded to Flickr? Like the ESPN phone, there already exists something called the Flickr Phone. It's a Nokia N73. But like the ESPN phone, it's not all that closely connected to Flickr. A real Flickr Phone would automatically geo-tag both photos and video for Flickr's Geotagging view. It would also constantly upload all pictures in memory to Flickr, so if you took 30 high-rez photos, it would keep uploading, even after you put your phone in your pocket.
Digsby Phone. Digsby isn't a Web service, but a desktop application that integrates IM, social networking and e-mail messages into a single user interface. You enter login information for AIM, Google Talk, Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and others, and you get pop-up notifications on your desktop. I'd love to see a phone optimized in the same way, where all services provide beep notification for incoming messages from all possible services. I also wouldn't mind a clamshell version that actually showed the messages in a small screen on the outside. That way I could just drop the phone on a table and glance at it when new messages come in without actually having to pick it up, turn on the screen and so on.
FriendFeed Phone. FriendFeed is a lifestreaming service that supports 48 social services, and dumps all messages, status updates, posts and other chatter into a single stream of updates. I'd love a phone that had kind of "screen saver" or default screen that kept all this information flowing in a kind of ticker format from all my friends.
What other Web-service specific phones would you like to see?