Why Would Anyone Want to Buy a ‘Facebook Phone’?

Visit the original post at my Forbes blog The New Persuaders.

So Facebook wants to make a smartphone. Not just a nice app that it sorely lacks right now, but a piece of hardware that it supposedly will design, with the help of a half-dozen former iPhone and iPad software and hardware engineers it has hired.

As farfetched and even crazy as this may sound to those of us rubes who like to do more than just check in on Facebook with their smartphones, it’s apparently a longstanding obsession of the company. That obsession was recently heightened by an initial public offering that went less than swimmingly partly because investors were worried about the company’s lack of a strategy to make money from users on mobile devices. The idea, it seems, is that Facebook needs a clean mobile slate to fulfill its vision of socially infused advertising, so the only way to do that without interference from Apple, Google, carriers, or simply status-quo thinking by phone makers is to do its own.

But little of this rampant speculation makes much sense on its face. Mainly, the idea that Facebook needs to do this to ensure that it can run ads more easily ignores the fact that users–who ultimately would make a decision whether to buy a new phone–aren’t clamoring for ads from Facebook on their devices. A design that essentially makes the smartphone safe for Facebook ads seems unlikely to appeal to Facebook users. Maybe they won’t mind ads on their phones as much as some people might think, if they’re relevant to the activity at hand, but Facebook would have to offer very much more than that to get people to part with their existing phone.

Here’s the thing: Every smartphone is a Facebook phone. Every phone is a Google phone. The essence of the smartphone, like the computer, is that it’s programmable–you can, and people do, make it their own personal phone. Anything that limits that flexibility, even in the name of making it easier to use the most popular Web service on the planet, will be a nonstarter with the masses.

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The Top 10 Tech Trends, Straight From the Top 5 Tech VCs

Cross-posted from my Forbes blog The New Persuaders:

Everyone in Silicon Valley wants to know what’s coming next, and every year for the past 13 years, a panel of the most forward-thinking minds in technology and tech finance convenes here to provide a look at what innovations are likely to emerge in the next few years.

Last night it was time again for the Top 10 Tech Trends dinner, hosted by the Churchill Club, which puts on a bunch of Valley events with top tech folks every year. I wrote about last year’s here as well.

This year, the 14th, the panel is especially venture capital-heavy, but these folks are also, to a person, heavyweights in the Valley, so their opinions carry special weight. On the panel: Kevin Efrusy, general partner at Accel PartnersBing Gordon, investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & ByersReid Hoffman, partner at Greylock and executive chairman and cofounder of LinkedIn; panel regular Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson; and Peter Thiel, president of Clarium Capital. Moderating the festivities in place of longtime emcee  Tony Perkins, Churchill Club cofounder with Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard, are Forbes’ Eric Savitz, San Francisco bureau chief for the magazine, and Managing Editor Bruce Upbin.

The panel portion of the dinner, which attracts several hundred people (you can watch it live here for a fee), starts at 7 p.m. Pacific at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. The audience gets to vote–in past years, with red and green cards as well as electronic voting devices. This year, they’ll be using a Twitter-based polling system. Panel members have similar red-green paddles they hold up. I’ll post the highlights as they happen.

And we’re underway. Eric and Bruce will describe each trend and then the owner of that trend, one of the panel members, will explain it.

1) Radical Globalization of Social Commerce: Efrusy explains that companies today will be instantly global, or they will fall behind those that aren’t. For the previous Web generation, international was a distinct minority. Groupon, for example, was half international when it went public last year. If you want to be the leading global player, just leading the U.S. might not be enough. You can’t wait to win the U.S. and then open an office.

The other panel members wave half-red, half-green panels. Gordon, who waved a red, says that’s going to take awhile. Hoffman, also red, said the U.S. is still the most important. Thiel’s in-between, I think, but because he thinks it’s not very interesting. Jurvetson says it’s true, but 12 years old. It’s what every consumer Internet startup has been doing for 12 years. Thiel on second thought thinks it’s a worthwhile rule to go international early to avoid local copycats.

The audience shows mostly greens, matched by about 70% supporting the trend on TwitPolls.

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