Facebook event speculation turns to phones, mobile, search

Social network schedules mysterious press conference for Tuesday

With Facebook preparing for its mysterious press conference on Tuesday, speculation is surging that the announcement could be about anything from a new smartphone, a new mobile plan to a new search feature.

Last week, Facebook invited members of the press to a news event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. "Come and see what we're building," the invitation read.

While rumors are swirling that the social network will throw its hat into the smartphone ring, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that he has no intention of coming out with a Facebook phone.

During an on-stage interview last September, Zuckerberg said he couldn't emphasize enough that there will be no Facebook phone.

"That's always been the wrong strategy for us," he said at the time. "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."

However, at the same event, he did talk about the importance of mobile and the company's plans for search.

When asked about his interest in getting into search and how much Google's entrance into the world of social networking annoyed him, Zuckerberg said, "We do on the order of a billion queries a day now and we're not even trying... I think there's a lot of opportunity there and we'll have to some day go after that."

Today, industry analysts were betting on an announcement on a possible mobile ad strategy or search over a Facebook entry into the crowded and competitive phone market.

"Facebook has been wise to distance itself from the mobile device business, and I expect them to stick to that strategy," said IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds, who is betting more on Facebook's making a mobile app or search announcement. "There are more downsides than you can list there, with no redeeming opportunity, in my view," he said, referring to a Facebook smartphone.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, said he's expecting Facebook to introduce more, and better, mobile software supporting a wider range of devices, possibly focusing on real-time communications across Android, iOS and possible Windows 8 devices.

"Facebook has been both late to market and limited in demonstrating an understanding of the importance of mobility," Shimmin said. "Even with its recently introduced native applications for Android, Facebook has revealed the comparative immaturity of its engineering efforts. The new Android client, for example, has been shown to consume excessive system resources while running in the background. But the company can and most certainly will overcome such missteps."

Other analysts, including Patrick Moorhead with Moor Insights & Strategy, and Jack Gold with J. Gold Associates, said they view talk of a Facebook smartphone as a tired, old rumor that resurfaces every time the company is going to make another announcement.

"In my opinion, it would be a mistake for them to offer a phone," said Gold. "They don't have the ecosystem that an Amazon has for releasing its own devices... How do you make any significant revenues? Will existing users really switch to a Facebook-branded phone? I just can't see Facebook being successful with its own branded devices."

Computerworld Senior Editor Matt Hamblen contributed to this report.

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

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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