Is a Facebook phone destined to be a Vanity smartphone?

What do Palm, Kin, Nexus One, and the Simon have in common?

Beside being market failures, it’s the fact that they were efforts by large companies that had no business in smartphones. What’s more important is that the motivation for participation was not well thought out.

HP, Microsoft, Google and IBM tried (or are still trying) to capture a piece of the hardware revenues from smartphones, but their results were dismally poor. It turns out that with the exception of RIM, HTC and Apple, there have been no smartphone entrants which have succeeded against the incumbent voice phone makers.[1] Furthermore, Apple is the only large technology company to succeed. Studying the efforts that the successful entrants undertook shows that (1) it takes a very dedicated effort, led from the top, and (2) it takes a lot of capital or a lot of time. Those who tried and failed were not dedicated to the concept at a high enough level and were not patient enough for growth.

I think the real motivation to enter the market is rooted in vanity: appealing to the need management to feel a part of something new and important. If you are an ambitious internal champion skilled in political maneuvering, it’s fairly easy to appeal to this vanity in order to secure funding for these efforts.

This string of vanity-induced failures is not likely to end anytime soon. No doubt Dell will keep trying with the Aero, and we might see the PC companies rush in again as they did with PDAs.

We also hear today of the evolution of INQ’s product (INQ Social Mobile) into some sort of Facebook phone. However, is the Facebook phone project a vanity phone? Maybe, but the counterpoint is that this is not likely to be a smartphone. It’s more likely to be a feature phone and, as such, it’s not attempting to be something so grand or vain.

The real comparison might be to the Kindle. A specific, purpose-product built by the most motivated and best-positioned service provider. The Kindle has had some (unspecified) amount of success because it was developed to light specs and with a well-established distribution channel (

So although the motivation might be more sound, the challenge for Facebook will be the same as for Google: distribution. At the end of the day, without operator support the product will still remain a niche.

[1] I note here that Android and Windows Mobile are not phones but platforms and this article deals specifically with hardware.

  • Tom

    It seems with the euro telcos talking up their own OS while banishing iPhone ads, Apple, with some 66 telcos to deal with or deal against, is struggling to expand its distribution base. The vain approach by the telcos to bend Apple to support them and not the other way around leaves an impasse. We see this also with apple TV and the studios, who have refused to support the 99 cent streaming plan. We see magazine houses balking at Apple’s subscription plans for the iPad. We even see the stirrings of dissent among the record labels against the iTunes single track plan as opposed to full album sales alone.

  • yet another steve

    Apple was well positioned both in the market, technologically, and managerially. But it was also mission critical. It was clear that device convergence would crimp its market dominating ipod business. Disruption was coming, and Apple saw it, embraced it, and drove it.

    The mission critical aspect is vital in an exploding market like this. Apple had the talent, competencies and channels… but it’s also clear that iOS products have been top priority since Apple jumped in.

    And that kind of focus only happens with strong and capable leadership from the top.

    Contrast with: Microsoft

  • Pingback: asymco | Facebook to Enter Mobile Phone Market in 2011()

  • Pingback: The MoPR Blog » Blog Archive » Weekend Reading: September 24th – Facebook Edition()