Facebook phone rumour returns, but should Apple or Google worry?

Facebook phone

New York Times claims that social network has recruited former software and hardware engineers from Apple

LAST UPDATED AT 15:14 ON Mon 28 May 2012

IS FACEBOOK building a smartphone? The rumour, now a hardy perennial of the tech ecosystem, has been given new life thanks to a plausible story in the New York Times, which claims Facebook has recruited "more than half a dozen" former Apple software and hardware engineers who have worked on the iPhone as well one who worked on the iPad.

Employees of the social network and "people briefed on Facebook's plans" told the paper that the new phone will be released by next year.

Facebook has attempted several times to create a smartphone, according to one employee. Some of these have been reported by tech blogs, including one which ended in failure in 2010 because the company apparently did not have the technical knowhow.

Another attempt, codenamed 'Buffy' and supposedly being developed in conjunction with the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer HTC, was reported on by AllThingsD last year and is apparently still ongoing.

It seems Facebook has learned from its previous failures, and this time has assembled a competent team.

So what will a Facebook phone look like? Despite the mass recruitment of Apple staff, the New York Times believes the social network is unlikely to wage a war against Apple. Instead, Facebook will go head-to-head against cheaper phones running Google's Android operating system.

Facebook's website is, to all intents and purposes, an operating system. There is an email system, a calendar and a photo gallery, for instance. Moreover, recent developments support the theory that Facebook is developing its own ecosystem.

Last Friday, Facebook launched its own-brand Camera app - and then there its ongoing purchase of the popular mobile photo-sharing app Instagram. Both of these are applications that would sit well with the idea of developing a smartphone on which to run them.

Asked whether it is developing its own smartphone, Facebook neither confirmed nor denied the rumour, preferring to refer to the statement it gave to AllThingsD last year, when it reported on Buffy: "We're working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.