Do you remember the HTC First? No? Perhaps this might ring a bell: the Facebook Phone, Mark Zuckerberg's effort to create a branded device that could compete with Apple and Android.
The Facebook phone debuted with a lot of fanfare in the spring of 2013. Facebook struck an exclusive deal with AT&T to sell the phone, and pumped a lot of money into marketing and promotion. However, the Facebook phone was met with a massive yawn by consumers, and within a month, AT&T had dropped the price of the HTC First from $99 to 99 cents.
Apparently Zuckerberg and his colleagues are not giving up on the telephone market, or at least the voice call portion of it. According to a report Friday by the Web site Android Police, screenshots of a new Android app were captured in the wild that seem to suggest that Facebook is developing software to replace the default Android dialer.
We reached out to Facebook for comment and while a spokesperson was willing to confirm the existence of the "Phone" app, no further information was available. "We are always testing things and have nothing to announce at this time," the spokesperson said.
The Facebook 'Phone' App
The new Facebook app, creatively dubbed "Phone" (at least for the time being), apparently was supposed to be limited to internal testing, but wound up on some users' devices as part of Facebook's bi-weekly automatic updates.
The screen shots suggest that the Facebook Phone app is designed to provide users with increased information about callers by looking up incoming phone numbers in the massive Facebook user database and displaying the data on the screen.
According to the screen shots, the app also states that it "automatically blocks calls from commonly blocked numbers." There is no information yet regarding the source of the blocking data -- it could refer to silenced friends on Facebook, blocked callers on the user's device, or possibly numbers that are blocked on crowd-sourced sites.
More Data for Facebook?
After the Facebook phone fiasco, what could be driving the development of a Phone app? In a word, data.
Facebook already has large amounts of social media data that is generated daily by its more than 1.3 billion users. The company has also invested heavily in messaging of various types: the stand-alone Facebook Messenger app, Instagram and WhatsApp.
However, a Phone app would offer the company important insights into a type of communication that it currently lacks: actual voice calls between two individuals. Facebook could not legally monitor the contents of the calls, of course, without running afoul of federal wiretap laws. However, simply knowing who is calling whom and when could offer powerful insights into relationships among its many users. That information could prove valuable to advertisers.
There is no word as to when or even if Facebook will formally release its Phone app.
Posted: 2015-03-24 @ 11:29pm PT
I heard this news in blogs last week, Mark Zuckerberg's thinking more about the telephone market after WhatsApp started providing voice calling ability to their users.