On what should be a quiet Good Friday, speculation is flying over an Android-themed event that Facebook has scheduled for next Thursday.
Of course, the most low-hanging rumor fruit is that the company will really-we-mean-it-this-time introduce the endlessly discussed "Facebook phone." This is one rumor mill that makes me ill so I'll defer to BGR's Zach Epstein to explain what I think the chances are of such a device. (Spoiler: there's not a chance)
Please, God, no
Now I could be wrong. And if I am, I'll say so next week if the rumored HTC Myst makes its debut. But, seriously, Facebook doesn't need to do that. Introducing a brand-new phone with some dedicated Facebook button or doodad wouldn't bring anything to the mobile experience. Facebook and HTC already tried that with the HTC Salsa and HTC Status/ChaCha two years ago. Remember them? No? Well, don't feel bad because hardly anyone does.
No, smartphones have become all about what's inside. By all means, design matters -- HTC, for example, uses every opportunity to promote the One's shiny metal skin -- but lately we hear more about a phone's experience. That certainly was true at Samsung's Galaxy S4 launch event, the BlackBerry Z10 debut, and the unveiling of the iPhone 5 (and most iPhone models before it).
I really mean 'no'
That's why I think that the predictions from Nick Bilton of the New York Times and JR Raphael of Computerworld are much more plausible. Bilton says that Facebook will introduce "a special version of Google's Android software system" that's "modified to put the social network front and center" on an HTC handset. Meanwhile, Raphael goes a step further and says we'll see "a custom Android launcher" that would position Facebook's various services (chat, messages, and alerts) on the home screen.
What's more, and maybe I'm parsing semantics here, but remember that Facebook's invitation promises a "new home on Android," not a "new home for Android." Sure, we'll see a phone next week -- Facebook can't properly demo software without one -- but I don't think it will be a new HTC handset. Maybe, it will be a variant of the One. That could be a reason why it has been delayed so many times. But even if the news is just about software, I'm going to remain a curmudgeon about the whole idea. Better apps are very welcome -- Facebook's current Android app still is iffy -- but we don't need another Android version. And more importantly, we don't need an "easier" way to use Facebook.
Enough choice as it is
Frankly, we need another Android version like I need a hole in my head. Why? Because we have enough, already. Samsung laces its Android phones with TouchWiz, HTC uses Sense (arguably, the best of the bunch), and Motorola now uses a much less offensive version of MotoBlur. Though we've come to live with these versions while not entirely loving them, at least each version is unique to a hardware manufacturer. If you have TouchWiz, you know that's on a Samsung device and not one made by HTC or Sony.
A Facebook-specific version of Android, however, would make the waters even muddier. Just where would it fit into the current Android landscape? Would that mystery HTC phone have both Facebook's software and Sense? Or would Sense be replaced completely? Honestly, it just makes my head hurt. I'm not arguing that we live in a minimalist, Mies van der Rohe world of only stock Android -- indeed, making Android the same wouldn't be in truest spirit of the OS -- but sometimes too many choices can be a bad thing.
I'm also concerned with how a Facebook Android version would affect the OS update cycle. (Don't worry, I'm not starting yet another Android fragmentation argument.) Though there is debate over whether custom Android versions significantly slow the update process, you can't argue that they affect it. After Jelly Bean was available, for instance, manufacturers had to make make sure that it ran as it should on their devices. I imagine that a Facebook version would add a similar layer of complexity. And if a phone has Facebook's Android and TouchWiz, then we could be in for a mess.
Better, not more
I realize that technology is all about making us do more and do it more efficiently, but have we really become that desperate for Facebook's content that we need it more front-and-center than it already is? No. We already get push notifications for things like wall posts, comments, and event invites in the Android app. They may not always work, but the option is there. So what more do we need...our phone to give us an electric shock when someone comments on your witty status update? Has our self-confidence become so linked to our Facebook life, or is it just that we're lazy?
I also don't see why we need better access to Facebook products like chat, messaging, and events. Maybe it's just me, but I'll always text instead of using Facebook chat on my phone, and I'll always e-mail rather than send a Facebook messages unless I have no other alternative. And those Facebook event invites? Please -- those are made to be forgotten. But most of all, having a phone ask me, "What's on your mind?" every time I look at the home screen would be maddening.
I'm guessing that Bilton and Raphael are correct, but I hope that we see a better Android app next week rather than more Facebook on my phone. Even a simple Android widget would be fine, but a full Android version would be way too much. Facebook and its services already are available in enough ways. It's a big part of my phone, it's on my PC, and embedded on my tablet. So, really, what more do we need?