We're 'not building a phone,' Facebook insists

But deeper integration of social experiences and mobile devices is under way

Rumors Monday that Facebook is building a mobile phone evolved later in the day to a Facebook spokeswoman insisting that the social networking giant simply wants to "integrate deeply into existing platforms and operating systems." And it's not working on any phone.

Facebook "is not building a phone," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. She stressed that Facebook is working with phone manufacturers on "deeper integrations" of its social networking phenomenon, which now has grown to more than 500 million regular visitors.

"Our approach has always been to make phones and apps more social, not build a phone," the spokeswoman said. "Our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social, so integrating deeply into existing platforms and operating system is a good way to enable this."

Facebook already has apps for the iPhone and Android phones, so it's not clear how much deeper it might want to get with OS integration. Facebook is not a hardware maker, but could easily partner with a hardware maker to put Facebook on the home page of a new phone, bloggers and analysts noted.

The company pointed out its Connect for iPhone to see the kind of integration Facebook already provides with contact syncing. In addition, the INQ1 phone from 3 has Facebook integration and was called the 'Facebook Phone' when introduced in 2009, the spokesperson noted.

Techcrunch seemed to kick off the speculation on Sunday with a headline, "Facebook is Secretly Building a Phone," and story quoting an unnamed source with knowledge of the project.

According to the story, Facebook is building phone software and working with a third-party firm on hardware. Techcrunch also reported that two high-level Facebook employees -- Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos -- are secretly working on the project. Papakopos worked on the Google Chrome OS until June before leaving for Facebook.

Developing the OS and other software for a phone would be quite different from making a Facebook app available for a new phone on an existing OS. But the integration Facebook may now envision could move beyond the way some phones already work, which includes making it possible to click on a person's name to dial the number or to send a text, for example.

The Facebook spokeswoman added that Hewitt and Papakipos are working on the phone-related projects, and hinted at how the Techcrunch story may have gotten started: "The bottom line is that whenever we work on deep integration, people want to call it a "Facebook Phone" (even internally) because that's such an attractive soundbite, but our real strategy is to make everything social and not building one phone or integration."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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