Facebook does not have to build a phone, as its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has long maintained.
But it needs to find a way to play a bigger role in delivering what consumers want from their phones: ways to communicate, find answers to questions, shop and be entertained. The company would especially like to become that workhorse for the vast majority of its users who live outside the United States and from whom, so far, it barely profits.
The company will make its biggerst leap yet in the direction soon, when it is expected to introduce a moderately priced phone, made by HTC, powered by Google’s Andriod operating system and tweaked to showcase Facebook and its apps on the home screen.
The facebook phone adheres to two crucial product announcements in the last three months: A new search tool that encourages users to use their facebook friend network to seek everything from restaurants to running trails, and a news feed remade for mobile devices.
The details of the would-be Facebook-centric phone are under wraps. But the motivation is certain. Facebook already functions much like a phone allowing users to chat, send group messages and even, in one experiment with users in Canada, to make free phone calls over the internet. Its platform hosts a variety of applications that deliver things like music and news and its newsfeed has been tweaked to showcase photos, which is what Facebook users post by the millions everyday.
There are fledging experiments with commerce. Facebook users can buy online and offline gifts on Facebook with their credit cards. Equally important, Facebook’s insistence on real name means that Facebook can be something like an identity verification service. It is well-positioned to be a kind of mobile wallet, containing the equivalent of an identity card and seamless way to buy things.