Over the weekend there were two much-discussed mobile-related rumors, both coming out of TechCrunch. The first — still a very hot topic on Techmeme this morning — is that Facebook is building a branded phone or mobile operating system.
The original rumor yesterday was that Facebook was working on a mobile OS with a hardware manufacturer. Then there was speculation that Facebook was developing on top of Android. Facebook has disputed the rumor and denied that it’s working on a phone in any capacity. There are already a number of phones (e.g., INQ Mobile) that feature Facebook prominently.
After Facebook’s reported PR denial, many have responded with skepticism, to wit: Facebook is not working on a phone like Google wasn’t working on a phone (Nexus One). There’s even an alleged picture of the Facebook phone (at left) which looks like a photoshopped version of the iPhone (if you ask me).
The second rumor, which is more curious and has been obscured by the “sexier” Facebook phone discussion, is that Google is planning to distribute millions of mobile devices to small businesses (SMBs).
Here’s the original TechCrunch description of the alleged plan:
In an effort to compete with services like Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare, Google is preparing to distribute millions of custom mobile devices to small businesses around the U.S., says a source with knowledge of the program. These devices will allow customers to check-in and rate the businesses and perhaps even purchase items via Google Checkout. Eight million of the devices will be distributed, says the source.
Over the weekend, I went into some detail on my personal blog Screewerk about this, Google’s potential motivations and how it might work. The curious thing is that this doesn’t appear to be a phone (per se) and would be distributed to SMBs — but for the primary usage of their customers reportedly. The hypothetical involvement of Google Checkout is also very interesting for several reasons.
As I said on my blog:
If Checkout were a centerpiece of these devices, Google could potentially gain valuable data and would be able to “close the loop” between online research and offline buying. Think about it: I’m signed in to Google, I search on my PC or smartphone, I see/click PPC or display ads, I show up in store and buy with Checkout. Google would potentially be able to track and capture this entire “purchase cycle.” You could even hypothetically track display impressions and their “latent offline impact” in such as system.
There’s probably something in the works over at Google, which declined to comment or provide me with additional information. However TechCrunch probably has some or much of the details wrong. Regardless, we’re not going to see 8 million of anything show up on day one if or when Google starts distributing devices. Eight million is almost the entire “addressable” SMB advertiser market in the US.
The final mobile item of interest is actually real: Google Voice has arrived in the iTunes app store (vicariously). GV Mobile (not Google) has brought a Google Voice app to the iPhone, for $2.99. It suggests that a Google Voice app (for free) will be coming soon. This is in the wake of new app store policies, which relax some of the rules and restrictions formerly imposed on developers.