Facebook embedding itself in Android phones; who will care?

Brian X. Chen and Nick Bilton of the New York Times wrote this article last week about a Facebook-powered Android phone. They, like me, wonder if there is even a desire for a phone like this.

The idea of a Facebook-powered Android phone is not new. In 2008, Inq, a phone maker based in London, released a phone called the Inq1 that integrated Facebook services into crucial areas of the device. In 2011, it said it would release an Android phone called the Inq Cloud Touch, which had some of Facebook’s services integrated into the home screen.

But early last year, Inq pulled the plug on theCloud Touch, saying it would instead focus on other products. Frank Meehan, the former chief executive of Inq, said in an e-mail interview that the Inq had felt too threatened by Samsung Electronics, now the biggest maker of phones in the world, so it abandoned its plans.

“Samsung was already on a path to crush everyone, and we decided to get out of hardware and turned the company into software only,” Mr. Meehan said.

Facebook’s approach to modifying Google’s Android software is similar to Amazon’s, said a former employee of Facebook who had been briefed on the product. For its Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon removed Google’s apps and promoted its own services, like the Kindle e-book store, Amazon’s video service and Amazon’s own app store. The tablet is essentially an Amazon-powered shopping console.

A smartphone that gives priority to Facebook services is good for Facebook, but it is unclear whether that is something consumers want. Jan Dawson, a telecommunications analyst at Ovum, said the concept was “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“There are lots of people who love Facebook, but I doubt if any of them feel like they need a more Facebook-centric experience on their phones,” he said. “There isn’t anything obviously missing.”

He agreed that it was unlikely that wireless companies would put much support behind such a device, because they are already worried about the way Google and Facebook are supplanting carriers in people’s minds as providers of content and communication services.”