Buffy the empire slayer? Facebook takes on Google, Apple

Mark Zuckerberg is working on putting a Facebook phone into the hands of the 350-million users who access the social network via their mobiles each month.
Days after its $16-billion roller-coaster share sale, Facebook is preparing to take on Google and Apple by creating its own handset and the software to operate it, according to a string of reports from Silicon Valley to Taiwan.
The social network has hired former Apple software and hardware engineers, and one who worked on the iPad, the New York Times reported. Employees and engineers approached by recruiters say the company hopes to release its own smartphone next year.
Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor is said to be leading the project, and the new recruits will expand a group working with Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC on a project codenamed Buffy – a reference to the vampire slayer TV series.
News of the Buffy phone first emerged in November. It is expected, like Amazon’s Kindle reader, to run on a customised version of Android, according to Digitimes.com.
Facebook could be looking to stake Google, which dominates the budget end of the smartphone market with its Android software. Google last week won approval for a $12.5-billion takeover of Motorola Mobility, which could see the software company designing its own handsets.
Zuckerberg is worried that if he does not create a mobile phone soon Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms, a Facebook employee said.
Facebook has been assembling the elements needed to create a phone. Besides its alliance with HTC, it is to launch its own app store, where phone versions of Pinterest, Spotify and other websites with links to Facebook will be spotlighted, rated and available for download.
Facebook already has a camera app and is about to own another, once its $1-billion purchase of the 18-month-old photo sharing site Instagram is complete. It also has an instant messaging service, like Apple’s iMessage and BlackBerry’s BBM. The company was reported on Friday to be in talks to acquire a web browser. Gadget site Pocket-lint said Facebook had set its sights on the Norwegian firm Opera Software, which has developed internet browsers for mobile phones and desktop computers.
“They are not doing a phone to enter the devices market,” said Carolina Milanesi at research firm Gartner. “If they do a phone they will have to embed Facebook and Instagram at the core of the device, learning from every click the users does.”
Motorola and HTC have already made phones with a Facebook button. The HTC ChaCha, a BlackBerry style handset, lets users share music, photos and updates by pressing the keyboard’s F button.
A phone would allow Zuckerberg more control over customers and make for less dependence on Google and Apple.
While Microsoft has integrated Facebook features, Apple has been less welcoming. A Facebook spokesperson referred to a statement on the company’s mobile strategy: “We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers.” – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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