Facebook, apparently not chastened by its lackluster public offering a week ago, has begun laying the groundwork for another aggressive business move, initiating the development of a smartphone, according to a report in the New York Times
The social networking website, which has poached several top engineers involved in the development of Apple’s iPhone, hopes to develop both the hardware and operating system of a unique smart-phone, allowing Facebook to go toe-to-toe with rival information technology giant Google, which recently acquired hardware-maker Motorola Mobility for a cool $12.5 billion.
Facebook has previously flirted with the smartphone market, announcing a partnership in 2011 with consumer-electronics firm HTC to develop a smartphone, code-named “Buffy,” according to the website AllThingsD.
Sunday’s report, however, seems to move the Facebook smartphone buzz from speculation to realization. After an interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, one engineer said the questions he fielded “did not sound like idle intellectual curiosity.”
Despite the obvious benefits of a successful foray into the mobile phone market — the promise of a fresh revenue source for the newly public company, for example — the drawbacks are just as dramatic and potentially far easier to realize. The history of cell-phone manufacturing is littered with the chagrin of large companies whose mobile products were unable to pass muster with consumers, including Hewlett Packard and Dell.
Put simply, making phones is hard. “Building isn’t something you can just jump into,” explained former Apple hardware manager Hugo Fiennes. “You change the smallest thing on a smartphone and you can completely change how all the antennas work. You don’t learn this unless you’ve been doing it for a while.”
Despite the looming hurdles, Facebook may feel as though it has little choice. One employee described Zuckerberg’s anxiety about being left behind in the rapidly-expanding mobile phone market: “Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms.”
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