The New York Times cited unnamed sources, including Facebook employees, suggesting that the network had been hiring several smartphone engineers.
“The company has already hired more than half a dozen former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad, the employees and those briefed on the plans said,” the paper reads.
Facebook spokespersons have recently admitted the site was trying to make money out of its growing mobile audience. The company, which recently floated on the stock market, has also just launched its own mobile app store, writes BBC.
It is the third effort of a social networking giant to build a smartphone, said one person briefed on the plans and one who was recruited.
In 2010, the rumors were circulating that Facebook was working on a smartphone. The project crumbled after the company realized the difficulties involved, according to people who had worked on it.
Last year there were also some reports that Facebook and HTC had entered a partnership to create a smartphone, code-named “Buffy,” which is still in the works.
When asked Friday, Facebook neither denied nor confirmed the existence of a project to build a smartphone, but said, “We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers.”
Well, the motivation for the social network is clear: as a newly public company, it must find new sources of revenue, and it fears being left behind in mobile, one of the most promising areas for growth.
“Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” a Facebook employee revealed.
Facebook is going to great lengths to keep the phone project a secret, specifically not posting job listings on the company’s job Web site, but instead going door-to-door to find the right talent for the project.
“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.”
But is it possible for the social network to build hardware? Mixing the cultures of hardware and software designers is akin to mixing oil and water. With the rare exception of Apple, other phone makers aren’t very good at this.
The biggest names in consumer electronics tried to create new lines of phones but haven’t succeeded. Hewlett-Packard tried and failed. So did Dell. Sony has never done very well making phones.
“Building isn’t something you can just jump into,” explained Hugo Fiennes, a former Apple hardware manager for the first four iPhones who has since left Apple and is starting a new hardware company, Electric Imp.
“You change the smallest thing on a smartphone and you can completely change how all the antennas work. You don’t learn this unless you’ve been doing it for a while. Going into the phone business is incredibly complex.”