The Facebook phone is doomed yet again. AT&T has cut the price of the HTC First, the first smartphone to ship with Facebook Home pre-installed to 99-cents with a two-year contract, leading CNET, ZDNET, and Slate, among others, to question the viability of Facebook’s entry into the smartphone market. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Putting a mid-tier smartphone on sale just a month after its release doesn’t ring well for the device itself, even if it is the only cheap, LTE-compatible smartphone capable of running stock Android with a simple settings change. But the trouble is thinking that the HTC First — or the current iteration of Facebook Home itself — really matter to Facebook or its mobile efforts.
If anything, the HTC First dropping down to almost-free (that it isn’t just free on a two-year contract is bizarre) is good for Facebook, as Slate notes. One would imagine that the number of people who can afford to spend a dollar on a smartphone would be greater than — and inclusive of — the people who could spend $100 on the same device. But even that number is likely inconsequential to Facebook, which cannot and will not rely on a single device for its mobile efforts.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was careful to point out during Facebook Home’s announcement that the company has not built “a Facebook phone.” Doing so would limit Facebook’s ability to reach its 1 billion users, which is why the company opted to build on top of Android instead of developing its own hardware or operating system. There is no Facebook phone; in the future, there might not be an Android device unable to become a Facebook phone.
At this point it’s worth noting that even though Facebook advertises the HTC First on its landing page for Facebook Home, the social network has removed the segment where HTC and AT&T’s chief executives introduced the device from the video of Facebook Home’s announcement. All it would take is an update to the Facebook Home landing page for the HTC First to be completely erased from the narrative Facebook is constructing around its mobile efforts.
Does the HTC First’s price cut bode well for HTC? Probably not. Could it affect other manufacturers’ willingness to pre-load Facebook Home onto their devices, as CNET and ZDNET speculate? That depends on how enthused manufacturers were about Facebook Home in the first place. But does it really matter to Facebook, the service users spend the most time with on their smartphones anyway?
No. And that’s exactly why Zuckerberg announced Facebook Home instead of a “Facebook phone.”