Two years after the rumor originally hit the Internet that Facebook was developing its own branded smartphone with a partner (subsequently quashed by Mark Zuckerberg), the rumor that Facebook is working on an Android device of its own is back.
TechCrunch states that rumor has it that Facebook is working with Taiwanese device maker HTC to develop the smartphone. The original story comes way of Asian publication DigiTimes, which cites unnamed sources. Take that with a grain of salt, as always.
The report mentions that the phone would be developed exclusively for Facebook, and as such, would include integration with all the social network’s features deep into the phone’s specially tailored version of Google’s mobile operating system. Supposedly, the earliest the phone would launch is in the third quarter of 2012.
Facebook has worked with device makers, specifically HTC and INQ, to make phones that have deep Facebook integration, but Facebook hasn’t actually worked on a smartphone of its own up to now. Some pretty big rumors surfaced in 2010 that the social networking company was working on a device of its own to challenge other Android devices and Apple’s iPhone, but Facebook said at the time that no such plans were in place. In fact, Zuckerberg said at the time that Facebook wasn’t interested in developing for a single phone, but for every phone.
If the rumor is true, it would appear that Facebook is potentially changing that outlook, although it’s fully possible for the social network to develop a branded device while maintaining pretty comprehensive support for other devices and platforms. It’s definitely not in Facebook’s best interest to provide fewer users with access to its social network, so what will likely happen is that the Facebook phone, should it come to exist, will simply be a better, more involved experience for users: a sort of premium version of mobile Facebook integration.
As TechCrunch notes, it sounds like Facebook and HTC would be going for a completely reskinned, fully customized version of Android, which would likely mean dropping some features such as access to Google Play, Gmail and Google Maps. But Facebook is likely strong enough to stand without Google support, even if losing some of those features would turn off some users. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has shown that Android devices can forgo Google support and do just fine.
Now we just have to wait to find out if the rumor is true.