Facebook will try to carve itself a bigger slice of the mobile pie at an event today where it is widely expected to reveal a new mobile ecosystem of sorts forked onto Google’s Android operating system. Well-placed leaks and reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times indicate that the elusive “Facebook Phone” is finally coming – one way or another. Facebook’s invite for the event teases it as such: “Come see our new home on Android.”
Although rumors of a phone in the works have surfaced for years, the device never came to fruition. Now it appears that Facebook is thinking more than device, opting instead to build a platform that could thrive across an array of mobile phones running on Android. Facebook will showcase the features of its new mobile software on a new smartphone from HTC, according to reports, a strategy very similar to how Google got its start on mobile with the G1 from HTC (the first Google-branded smartphone) in October 2008.
Marketing executives tell ClickZ that they expect Facebook to reveal a phone and new mobile software built for Android that puts Facebook front and center throughout much of the mobile experience. Facebook is also expected to wrap many of the phone’s core features directly into its network, beginning with the phone’s home screen. Where, how, and under what conditions the new HTC phone will be sold are not yet known. But even more important will be how Facebook plans to modify Android and springboard this launch into a full platform play that it can claim as its own on mobile.
“If they do want to gain more control, they’re going to have to do so unbelievably subtly and slowly,” says Peter Shankman, chief executive of digital marketing agency Geek Factory and author of the just released book “Nice Companies Finish First.”
This is Facebook’s chance to make a new home for itself on mobile with an immersive platform, he says. “Their biggest problem right now is they just don’t have it. They just don’t have it, end of story…If it’s not an actual platform that works from an advertising perspective, then it’s going to be a miss.”
Adam Kleinberg, chief executive of digital agency Traction, says brands will begin to fit into the equation when Facebook pushes Graph Search and more enhancements to the news feed onto mobile.
“The power of the Android platform is that it’s flexible and you can create your own version of it. Just like there’s flavors of Linux, there’s flavors of Android. And I think that this flavor will be very powerful,” he says. “I think this gives them an opportunity to, if they’re doing an operating system, to integrate the new feed and new advertising opportunities there first.”
Facebook has an exciting opportunity to evolve from an app provider and browser-based experience into a more cohesive operating system, Kleinberg adds. “[Facebook] could really just reinvent a more seamless integrated experience that’s more social forward…Who needs a browser anymore? It’s just going to be Facebook,” he says.
“It seems almost like harkening back to the days of AOL trying to present you with a holistic browsing experience that was kind of separate from the web, but it’s not going to be so much separate, it’s going to be more open and inclusive,” adds Kleinberg. “But still Facebook is trying to do what AOL did back then, which is present you with a holistic experience from search to messaging…to your social conversations…to how you browse.”
He also expects Facebook’s new play on mobile to help solidify its plans for data targeting. “I think we’re going to see more about how their entire data strategy is pulling together with Facebook Exchange and the purchase of Atlas and their partnership with Acxiom,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a diversion from where they said they were going to be pre IPO. I think they’ve become more like a typical ad targeting network…and I think we’re going to see those puzzle pieces more clearly articulated.”