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Facebook Doesn't Need A Phone. It Wants Them All

Here's how Zuck's pulling the mobile experience away from Android and iOS and into his social network's apps.

What do you use to send instant messages, maintain your calendar, take and share photos, check your email inbox, leave voice messages, look up restaurants nearby, and store your contacts when you’re away from your desktop computer?

The big answer is: your smartphone, of course. But more specifically, you might actually be using the Facebook apps you’ve loaded on that phone.

Over the last couple of years, Facebook has packed its mobile apps with much of the same functionality as operating systems like Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, or Amazon’s version of Android for Kindle Fire. It has not, however, launched the Facebook phone that once seemed inevitable.

That's because your phone already is a Facebook phone. Android, Apple, whatever—with a strategy to make Facebook tools the go-to apps for everyday mobile living, the device type doesn't matter.

"People keep asking if we’re going to build a phone—and we’re not going to build a phone," Zuckerberg insisted for perhaps the millionth time during Wednesday’s earning call. "It isn’t the right strategy for us to build one integrated system where—so let’s say we sold 10 million units, that would be one percent of our users—who cares for us?"

According to Comscore, Facebook already owns 23% of time spent in apps on Android and iOS. It also owns Instagram, one of the apps with which mobile users spend the second most amount of time (it's tied with Gmail and YouTube at 3%). The more time the company controls on its competitors' phones, the less important it is that it doesn't have its own devices. "We’re going to keep on pushing to get more integrated with the systems," Zuckerberg continued Wednesday. "Rather than building an app that is a version of the functionality you have today, making it so you can go deeper and deeper, I think, is going to be a big focus for us."

According to a Comscore study, Android and iOS users spend more time in Facebook's app than any other.

A flood of new features that accomplish basic mobile tasks could help the company control more of the time—even most of the time—spent with any phone. Last year, for instance, Facebook updated its events to work more like a calendar (though not on mobile yet). It launched a separate text-message-like messenger app in August 2011, and added free voice calling to it this January. Facebook acquired the dominant mobile camera across all systems with Instagram. Then it launched its own app store.

That's not to say that most people do, or ever will, use all of the operating system-type functionality Facebook provides. But imagine the potential combined power of all these small features: If you're using Facebook messenger instead of texts, messages instead of email, events instead of a calendar app, voice messaging instead of a phone call, Instagram instead of your camera app, searching for nearby restaurants using Graph Search instead of a native maps app and discovering additional mobile experiences in the Facebook app store, does Android or iOS really own your experience on your mobile device?

No, you're essentially using the Facebook operating system—it's just packed inside a handful of apps.

Already Facebook has 680 million mobile users, more than either Android or iOS. Google and Apple have made it pretty easy for the company to wheel its Trojan horse into their devices. An integration with iOS 6 syncs calendar appointments and contacts and allows posting to Facebook from outside the app. Android is such an open environment so, as Zuckerberg put it on Wednesday, "Even though our relationship with Google isn’t one where the companies really talk, we are able to do a bunch of things that they have an open platform that lets us get deep into the platform."

Instead of competing with other device makers and operating systems, Facebook has based its strategy on infiltrating the entire mobile experience from inside its apps. Apple and Google might still control the buttons, the app downloads, and the swiping signals, but Facebook is on the way to controlling what it cares about—their users' time.

[Image: Flickr user Felix Schmidt]

Add New Comment


  • John Sung Kim

    I'm excited about Graph Search as an imbedded part of the Fb Mobile App. Yelp has kind of jumped the shark with too many reviews starting with, "So my bff and I woke up one Sunday...." Honestly, I trust my friend's opinions more than a stranger's.

  • Jakesprinter

    I love the direct login than my apps in mobile i can`t do a sharing photo in apps.

  • Richard Scorgie

    "Imagine" that you don't use any of this shit zucky wants you to use. I most certianly do not use this crap. Fuck FB.

  • Steve Schmidt

    It's just app which has good features that's it. It dose not mean that it can compete with Android or iOS. The facebook app on smartphone is good but not offer anything special.

  • Guest

    Interesting take, but this is not a strategy that is unique to Facebook, nor is it one that precludes them from eventually developing a mobile OS or smartphone. Twitter is doing the same thing (albeit on a smaller scale) with the launch of Vine. Also, this could simply be the first step to a true Facebook mobile OS- develop the apps first and then introduce a full OS, like an inverse of Google's strategy with Android.

  • Icesnake Frostfyre

    "you might actually be using the Facebook apps you’ve loaded on that phone."

    Like HELL I am. I absolutely WILL NOT use Facebook apps. Ever. Period. I don't play Facebook games and I don't use Facebook apps anywhere. Facebook is completely untrustworthy.

  • Samuel Qu

    "But imagine the potential combined power of all these small features......" the keyword is "imagine".

  • Marek Zajac

    Hopefully Google and Apple won't see this as too much of a threat - as soon as they start trying to fight this kind of deep systems integration, the end-user is going to start losing out. One of the things I love most about the "smartphone experience" is being able to easily gather all my contacts, calendars, and messages in one device. Personally, I don't care if someone emails, What'sApps, Facebooks, texts, or even actually calls me - what I care about is easily accessing and managing that information.
    At the moment the big players have let us do this with ever more simplicity, but I really hope they don't start rain-checking it.

  • cynicwithtaste

    "Personally, I don't care if someone emails, What'sApps, Facebooks, texts, or even actually calls me - what I care about is easily accessing and managing that information"
    I tend to agree, and that's why I'm personally not going to download and use a separate Facebook Messenger app.  Keep it simple with messaging via as few interfaces on the phone as possible.  That's what I like about iMessage - keeps the same text message interface