Facebook, like many tech giants, wants to overtake your smartphone. But rather than building devices or developing a full-fledged operating system, Facebook is going a more subtle route: nabbing chunks of your attention span, one app at a time. First there was the Facebook app; then the unpopular Home app; the beautifully designed reader Paper; the professional communication platform Work; and, of course, the pester-you-til-you-download-it Messenger. Now Facebook is going for the phone itself.
Surely, you remember the part of your pocket computer that makes and receives phone calls. That’s the part that Facebook is reportedly trying to reimagine with Phone, an Android-only app the company is developing, according to Android Police.
With Phone, Facebook appears to be leveraging its unique social data to improve upon the stock-phone dialer on Android devices (something it doesn’t have the freedom to tinker with on iOS). The app will reportedly automatically block numbers that are commonly blocked and will mine Facebook’s social graph for caller-ID information. Since many users tie their phone numbers to their Facebook accounts, the app will be able to take a smarter stab at identifying who’s calling, even if the person’s number isn’t stored in your device’s local contacts.
As far back as 2008, rumors that Facebook was developing a full-fledged phone began swirling. In 2013, that speculation gave way to the reality of what Facebook was really up to: crafting its own social-software layer for Android devices, rather than building its own handset or even a proper OS. Facebook Home, which launched two years ago, sits somewhere between being an application and being an operating system, the latter of which Facebook has emphatically said it has no desire to build.
While Home failed to win over users, it hasn’t stopped Facebook from continuing its quest to creep into a more dominant position on your phone’s home screen. Its flagship network app retains a huge install base across platforms–and predictions of Instagram’s post-Facebook acquisition demise haven’t come true. But Facebook isn’t content to house all its glory in one app. Instead, the company has been splintering off functionality into stand-alone apps like Messenger (which recently began letting users send money to each other) and Rooms. And if it makes it past the testing phase now under way, expect to see Phone in the Google Play app store any day now.