Is it really dead? After the tech community got in a tizzy over reports that HTC would soon launch two Facebook-branded Android phones, the world’s leading social network crushed those rumors like a Jets fan's dreams of a Super Bowl. When asked point-blank whether HTC’s handsets would be Facebook-branded, the company’s head of business development, Dan Rose, flatly replied “no.” Case closed, right? Not really, because Rose admitted that HTC had integrated the service’s APIs “in an interesting way.” So Facebook phones aren’t coming, but more Facebookified phones are.
Given that Facebook has been aware of these new devices, it’s safe to say the company at least collaborated with HTC. And it’s a smart move on Facebook’s part to attempt to take more control over the user experience without plastering its name on devices. It’s critical for the service to stay top of mind for millions of smart phone users whose attention is being splintered by more purpose-driven social networks such as Foursqaure, Groupon, and Twitter.
Here are seven ways Facebookified phones could change the way we use social networks on the move.
1. Facebook Places Check-Ins (and Friending) with a Tap
One of the hallmark features of Android 2.3 software is support for Near Field Communications chips, which allow users to read or exchange information using tags built into objects. Google is already rolling out "Recommended on Google" window stickers in Portland to allow customers to find out more about businesses before stepping inside. Facebook and HTC could leverage this same technology for Facebook Places, letting you instantly broadcast a check-in at a hip new restaurant. At the same time, NFC support would allow Facebookified phones to make and accept friend request by just bumping two devices together.
2. All Your Messages in One Place, Plus Video Chat
On a Facebookified phone, Gmail would likely take a backseat to Facebook Messages, a platform that aggregates texts, chat, and e-mail in a single conversation view. This service has been available on the desktop for a while, but it makes a lot more sense on mobile devices. You can also add people to a conversation that has already started, which could have benefits for business use. The missing piece of the puzzle is a FaceTime-like video chat application, which Facebook could offer through a partnership with Skype.
3. Easy to Like Any Web Page
I could easily see a Facebookified phone having a like button right next to the address bar in the browser, making it easy to share content without having to hunt for the button on the page or hitting the Settings button first, then Share, and then Facebook. It sounds like a small change, but it would have a huge impact. Before you give your thumbs-up, you could also supply your two cents in a drop-down comment box.
4. Automatic Photo Uploading, Connected Galleries
By default, a Facebookified phone would share the images you take with your friends, though you could always be selective. When you load the photo and video galleries on your device, you’ll see not just the photos you’ve uploaded but also your friends’ latest pictures, similar to Windows Phone 7. You’ll also be able to comment on pics. But Facebook and HTC should take things a step further and add video sharing to the mix, especially as 4G networks continue to grow.
5. Social Gaming on Steroids
When you go to the Android Market on Facebook, you’ll see a fully stocked game section with Facebook games front and center, including favorites such as Bejeweled Blitz, Farmville, and Mafia Wars. As you would expect, you’ll be able to easily connect with other gamers, and invites from friends will be delivered right to Android’s notification drawer.
6. Social Home Screens Galore, Including One Just for Privacy
If you look at HTC’s Sense experience on Android phones today, there are several home screens populated with useful widgets, including one just for scanning social networking feeds and posting quick updates. That would remain, but it might be the first thing you see on the main screen. Swipe to the left and you’ll see your most frequently contacted Facebook friends; swipe to the right and you'll see your Facebook friends' photo stream. The calendar widget would sync with Facebook automatically. Plus, there would be one screen with a widget that lets you quickly customize Facebook privacy settings—no dedicated app required.
7. Facebook Credits to Pay for Apps (and Much More)
It amazes me that when I walk into a 7-Eleven that Facebook Credit cards are sitting there right on the shelf. It really has become a mainstream currency for those who like to purchase virtual goods in games and apps. I’m not sure Google would allow it, but I could easily envision Facebook Credits becoming a payment method for apps of all kinds in the Market. You could also use Facebook Credits for purchasing goods in the real world, especially for redeeming Groupon-like Facebook Deals. Credits could even be earned for checking into places, sharing deals, or achieving high scores in games.