03/29/2013 12:08 pm ET

Facebook Phone Rumors Sweep Tech World (Again), Here's Why We're Obsessed

Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly insisted Facebook is not working on a phone. No way.

"[A] Facebook phone doesn’t make sense," Zuckerberg said in an interview last fall. He reiterated the point again this past January: "We're not going to build a phone."

End of story? Not even close.

Facebook might not be building a phone -- designing hardware from scratch, manufacturing handsets and putting them on shelves. But the social network's invitation to an April 4 press conference, at which Facebook promises to unveil its "new home on Android," has stoked a new wave of speculation that the social network is readying a smartphone that will put Facebook front-and-center.

TechCrunch's Josh Constine writes that sources suggest Facebook will show off a modified version of Google's Android operating system that "will have all sorts of extra Facebook functionality built in."

"Imagine Facebook’s integration with iOS 6, but on steroids, and built by Facebook itself. It could have a heavy reliance on Facebook’s native apps like Messenger, easy social sharing from anywhere on the phone, and more," writes Constine.

The Wall Street Journal reports the yet-to-be-announced software "displays content from users’ Facebook accounts on a smartphone’s home screen–the first screen visible when they turn on the device." The Facebook-ified software will debut on HTC phones, but that the social network is seeking other handset makers as partners, according to the Journal. 9to5Google cites its own anonymous sources in a report speculating that Facebook and HTC are prepping an ad campaign promoting the social smartphone. "As a nod to this phone being a much expanded version of the Facebook application found on iOS and standard Android devices, one of the tag-lines for the device is 'more than just an app,'" 9to5Google's Mark Gurman writes.

The latest chatter comes after more than two years of Facebook phone rumors, which have covered everything from Facebook's hiring of ex-iPhone engineers, to the codename for the project ("Buffy," according to AllThingsD).

So why the obsession with a Facebook phone? And why would Facebook even bother with its own phone?

A smartphone that offers deeper Facebook integration would be a major boon to the social network's increasingly critical push to be more present, more accessible and more frequently used on people's smartphones. Unlike mobile-first social applications such as Instagram, Foursquare and Pheed, Facebook launched years before smartphones were de rigueur and has been left playing catch up.

Facebook's "new home on Android" could free Facebook from having to hope its users tap its apps, and instead ensure that people are using Facebook anytime they're on their phones. Facebook would not only get more of our time and our attention, but, by serving as the layer between us and our phones, it could potentially collect more data about what we use, what we're doing and where we go. It could learn more about who we talk to and when.

With its own phone, Facebook would no longer be beholden to Google and Apple, who have the final say on what happens on Android phones and iPhones. The social network would have the freedom to launch new products that up what we share, or to introduce new products that help advertisers get our attention. All that should make its advertisers -- and shareholders -- quite happy.

Facebook has already succeeded in making itself part of the connective tissue of the internet -- its "like" buttons are virtually omnipresent online, it's convinced developers to build apps to run on Facebook and it recently announced that over 250 million people play games on its network, earning developers over $2 billion in total. It's reasonable to think phones could be next frontier to conquer.

Even as Zuckerberg has denied his company is at work on a phone, he's also acknowledged his ambitions go far beyond an app.

"I think we're much closer to the beginning than the end in terms of what we can do with the apps we use today," Zuckerberg said last year. "They're relatively basic compared to what we think anyone could imagine they'd want from their Facebook experience on a phone."

Next week, we may finally see what Facebook wants that experience to be.



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