Is Facebook building a mobile phone? Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says no. Or maybe. It depends on your definition of “build”. And “phone”.

Boy, I’m glad we cleared that up.

Zuckerberg spoke to TechCrunch in the aftermath of this weekend’s cranky back-and-forth between the tech blog and the company’s PR team about whether or not Facebook is building a phone. Echoing Facebook’s earlier denials, Zuckerberg says the company isn’t manufacturing a device:

At the end of the day, when people say “building a phone” they actually can mean very different things. Internally, the way we talk about our strategy, it’s like the opposite of that. Our whole strategy is not to build any specific device or integration or anything like that. Because we’re not trying to compete with Apple or the Droid or any other hardware manufacturer for that matter.

Note the equivocation implied in the comment that “building a phone” can “mean very different things.” Later in the interview, TechCrunch asks specifically if Facebook is building a mobile operating system, and Zuckerberg says no. But then he starts talking about grey areas:

When you get into the definition of what building a phone is, there are all these different things, which I think is the grey area, where, actually, sometimes even people internally refer to stuff as ‘Facebook phones’.

There’s the Apple approach of really designing all the hardware – I don’t think that they manufacture it themselves, but they probably work very closely with Foxconn – but they do have chip design and all of that in-house, I’ll bet we’ll never do anything like that. That is different from what we do.

And just from the 6 years of experience we’ve had building Facebook, which is a pretty complex system, you can’t just wake up one day and decide you want to do this stuff. Even building a whole operating system is, like years and years of work. So that is what Google does.

And Google has been in a bunch of different places. Nexus One, I think people would say they built that phone a bit more, but the Droid, I don’t think you could consider that is a phone that Google built, but some people would. I think what you’ll find is that all of this stuff that we do, is lighter than all of those things.

So even though you (probably) won’t be able to buy a Facebook-brand phone, the company is working on a project or projects that some of its own employees call the Facebook phone. As for what those projects entail, well, that’s still mysterious. But you wouldn’t call it a Facebook phone if it wasn’t pretty darn significant, or at least potentially significant, would you?

Besides addressing the rumors, Zuckerberg talks more generally about Facebook’s mobile strategy. The main message is one we’ve been hearing for a while, that Facebook wants to become the social platform for other mobile apps.

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