Is the Facebook Phone a Microsoft-grade error?

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With all the buzz about Carrier IQ, most of the tech world’s attention has already turned away from “Buffy,” the rumored-and-all-but-confirmed Facebook phone. The shift is appropriate. Frankly, the Facebook phone is a mistake, and if Facebook really has been working on the project for two years, a colossal mistake. A Windows Phone grade mistake.

Don’t try to tell me Windows Phone was a success, either. Despite the recent upturn in market share, WP7 is still in dire straits. Some estimates put WP7 market share lower than Symbian. Yeah, that’s Nokia’s old OS. With the new deal between the two companies that will obviously shift, but Nokia hardware doesn’t have a shot in hell of saving Windows Phone. The operating system is already on some really nice hardware and it still won’t sell.

Here’s the rub, at least for Microsoft. Windows Phone 7 is a great OS. I mean that. It’s solid. It’s pretty. It’s fresh, certainly when compared to the increasingly homogeneous Android and iOS platforms. It still isn’t doing well. Microsoft may have spent as much as 500 million dollars marketing Windows Phone 7, to say nothing of the massive development overhead. It still isn’t doing well. Why is Facebook so ready to make the same mistake?

The easy answer: Apple and Google. Those two companies have a stranglehold on mobile computing. Facebook is on both platforms, but my guess is that Facebook is worried about one of those companies making a play that could push Facebook out. The Galaxy Nexus is shaping up to be a beautiful phone, a phone that Google is planning for serious Google+ integration. But Google+ is dead. A nursing home at best. Is Facebook really worried about that?

It also seems reasonable to wonder if Facebook branding will really sell a phone, and to whom? Unless Facebook can pull an Apple-style keynote that warrants the existence of the phone, I don’t see the appeal. Apple has sexy mobile locked down. Android has the nerd factor. Both of those brands carry weight across demographics. Where does Facebook play? The tween market? Yuck.

As long as Facebook remains easily accessible on every Android and iOS handset, a phone with deep Facebook integration won’t really have a market. Not anything significant, anyway. Not enough to offset the cash Facebook has dumped into big names and a severely protracted development cycle. Not by a long shot.


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