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Facebook phone rumors explode after Android event announced

April 4 Facebook media event has experts expecting -- again -- that the social networking firm will unveil an Android smartphone

March 29, 2013 12:41 PM ET

Computerworld - Talk that Facebook is developing its own smartphone is spreading again.

Speculation about Facebook's hardware plans exploded yet again after the company late Thursday invited reporters to a press event on April 4 at its offices in Menlo Park, Calif.

The invitation reads: "Come See Our New Home on Android."

Not long after the invitations were sent, several news sites have speculated that Facebook is developing an Android-based smartphone.

The stories mark the latest round of rampant speculation that Facebook may be diving into the hardware business.

For instance, a Facebook announcement of a press conference in January also prompted widespread talk of a new smartphone. In fact, Facebook unveiled its Graph Search tool at the event.

The speculation comes despite past proclamations by Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the social networking company has no plans to sell smartphones. "The phone just doesn't make any sense," Zuckerberg said at a conference last September.

Zuckerberg repeatedly said he couldn't emphasize it enough that there will be no Facebook phone.

"That's always been the wrong strategy for us," he said in September. "We'll have 950 million users soon. Let's say we built a phone, theoretically -- we're not -- but we get 10 million people to use it. That doesn't move the needle for us. The phone just doesn't make any sense."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said he's not putting much, if any, stock into Zuckerberg's denials.

"Is there a rule that business leaders have to tell the truth?" he asked. "When [Apple's Steve] Jobs spoke, the more emphatic he was, the more I knew he would do the opposite. Heck, it might even have been true at the time."

Gottheil said it would make sense for Facebook to try its hand at hardware, despite the fact that it's out of the company's comfort zone and is already a highly competitive business.

"A phone, even an Android phone, makes sense," Gottheil said. "Facebook, like Google, is a major beneficiary of the mobile revolution. To have a device that sort of points you toward Facebook makes sense. Getting involved in handsets makes sense, too."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said Facebook doesn't need to offer a hand-held phone. The company could simply build VoIP services into Facebook that would enable voice and video conferencing.

"They could build a dedicated voice app based on Android first," he said. "It would be similar to the Messenger app. Think about it. With a voice app or service right in Facebook, you would have a list of users who are online and have voice capabilities. If I want to call one of them, just tap a button and it creates a VoIP call."

Kerravala said he could envision a service or app that enables Facebook users to call or video chat with their friends and generate significant business for the company. "People spend more time in Facebook than any other application, so I can see it being very popular," he noted.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter@sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.



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