Let's bring this story into perspective with similar events pertaining to other companies in the same industry. Back in 2006, Apple announced to the business world that it was not working on an Apple-branded smartphone due to concerns over the demands of tyrannical wireless carriers. In 2007, Google denied all rumors about the possibility of a Google-branded phone. In 2008, Microsoft announced that it was not working on a Zune Phone, despite recent contradictions that might infer otherwise. In 2009, Google exclaimed yet again that it had no intentions to market a company-branded phone with proprietary hardware.
At the heart of all these stories, the central theme is that each company allegedly denied projects that have turned out to be very real. When the report first broke of Facebook's intentions to create a smartphone, sources implied that high-level Facebook employees Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos were heading the secret project. After BusinessInsider chimed in, we are now certain that Facebook is not physically manufacturing hardware for a phone. Rather, the company intends to build a mobile software platform on top of everyone's favorite open source GPLed mobile operating system, Google Android.
Left to right: Matthew Papakipos, Joe Hewitt, Erick Tseng
Back in May, Facebook stole Erick Tseng, Google's Senor Android Product Manager, who is now the company's head of mobile products. With the leadership at hand, the company is rumored to be using Android as the base layer and heavily customizing the UI, applications, and overall social experience. Once Facebook has deep control over the core functions of the operating system, it can build a web-centric mobile smartphone platform where payments, application distribution, promotions, advertising and even search can all be handled in the same way as the web-based version of the Facebook site.
Joe Hewitt, the guy who also headed iPhone's Facebook application, has previously expressed his discontent with Apple's iPhone SDK and the way that Apple controls which programming languages developers are allowed to use. Through a collaboration with Erick Tseng, former Android product lead, many anticipate Facebook's customized OS-level integration will be a much better implementation than the dedicated Facebook application sold in different mobile app stores and market places, including those within Apple's control.
At this point, not much is known about what a Facebook phone might look or feel like. Project completion dates are also unknown, and pricing models are currently being speculated based on the recent news. Michael Arrington from TechCrunch notes that Facebook may need to appeal to a majority of people who have never owned a smarpthone in order to drive sales of its customized OS. If this business model is to be established, he expects carrier contracts to be priced at less than $50, and speculates a world where bills can be paid with Facebook Credits through a centralized checkout system. Nevertheless, while we may not know the specifics of Facebook's smartphone platform project, we do know that a very talented team of developers are working on the project, and the company's PR can do nothing to alter that truth.