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Those Facebook phone rumors are back again — except this time, they may be valid. Still, as we approach the possible unveiling of this curious device, a big question remains: Will anyone actually need this thing?

Facebook sent out invites yesterday for an April 4 event at its headquarters, inviting the media to “come see our new home on Android.” The company will likely use the event to unveil a HTC-built phone with a heavily modified, Facebook-friendly Android operating system, TechCrunch reports.

Around the same time yesterday, 9to5Google reported that Facebook was gearing up to launch a phone with HTC and that the two companies are also working on a huge marketing campaign in Southern California. The pitch? “More than just an app.”

Why Facebook wants a phone

I explained why Facebook doesn’t actually need a phone a year ago — though I noted that the company will still try to make one work anyway. Facebook’s apps are already among the most popular on Android and iOS, and it’s going to have a hard time convincing people to give up the devices they’re already used to. At that point, mobile was still a pretty big risk for Facebook — but since then the company has managed to grow its mobile revenues dramatically.

Strangely, the case for Facebook making a phone today is stronger than when it was struggling to make a buck from mobile. The company will need new and innovative ways to grow its mobile revenues — and now it’s clear that its mobile ad strategy works.

Why you won’t want a Facebook phone

But as the Facebook phone comes into focus, it makes even less sense for users. According to 9to5Google’s sources, it will look a lot like the iPhone 5, and it will feature all of Facebook’s services — photo uploading, messaging, contacts integration, and more — integrated throughout the operating system.

That sounds like a nice social utopia, but it will likely mean even more restrictions for consumers. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the Facebook phone completely blocked access to competing social networks like Google+ and LinkedIn.) And will saving a few taps and clicks really entice you to dump your beloved iPhone or Android phone?

The Facebook phone’s biggest potential issue is that it simply isn’t solving anything for anyone besides Facebook.

The company’s first stab at a branded phone with deep social integration, the Inq Cloud Touch, didn’t really go anywhere. The Inq Cloud Q, a Facebook-integrated phone with a hardware keyboard, didn’t even reach store shelves. A survey by analyst firm Robert W. Baird also indicated that only 7 percent of consumers wanted a Facebook phone, while 51 percent were interested in an Amazon smartphone.

Like many of Facebook’s services, a Facebook phone would also serve as another way for the company to collect personal information about its users. But while it’s not tough for the company to pitch free new features like Timeline, which offers useful functionality while also serving as a conduit for tracking more personal information, it’ll likely be much more difficult to take the same approach with a device you’ll have to pay for.

Photo via Johan Larson/Flickr


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